Businesses in the Glebe are set for a noisy summer of construction work and the inevitable loss of business. On Tuesday, May 24, traffic will be diverted and bus routes reorganized when the reconstruction of that strip of Bank St begins.
The project is part of a wider initiative to repair the deteriorating road and replace water and sewer pipes that are 100 years old. Wider sidewalks and streetscaping with bicycle racks, newspaper boxes and public art installations are all part of the project. But it comes with a price.
For four years, Bank St north of the Queensway underwent the same process. The main thoroughfare was cut off and businesses saw a decline in foot traffic; most survived, some closed, but all incurred losses.
Gerry LePage, the executive director of the Bank St Business Improvement Area, says that there are two key components to lessening the negative impact on businesses: maintaining access to the stores and communicating with the businesses on an ongoing basis to lessen the chance of any dissension.
“The worst thing you can do is let a member hang without any communication so that they are completely in the dark to what is happening,” he says.
The Glebe BIA has employed many of the same tactics used by LePage to help businesses stay afloat during the construction: providing parking areas for workers and customers (free parking is available on Lansdowne); appointing business owners as block captains to bring the concerns of businesses in the block to weekly meetings with engineers, construction representatives and other relevant partners; updating forecasts on what blocks will be affected, how they will be affected and how long each construction phase is expected to last; opening communication channels for business owners to express concerns; and appointing people within the construction firms to address any outstanding issues.
The Glebe BIA has initiated a large-scale multifaceted advertising campaign, worth several hundred thousand dollars, which includes events and targeted advertising to mitigate impact. It has also created cheat sheets for businesses, with suggestions on how to avoid or minimize revenue loss.
According to LePage, in four years of construction the Bank St BIA saw only one business shut down. He says that the business was already marginalized and therefore could not survive the construction project. He adds that all businesses were affected in one way or another.
“The losses depended on the type of store. In other words, if you were a special niche type of store, you suffered the least loss, anywhere from about 10 to 15 percent. However, if you were a general merchandise, convenience-type store you could lose 40 to 50 percent simply because the items you sell can be readily available in multiple locations,” he says.
The shops in the Glebe are, for the most part, specialized shops that rely on neighbourhood residents and foot traffic. All pedestrian areas will be maintained, extra bike racks are going in and new BIXI bike stations will be installed.
But when all is said and done, the construction work will still cause the BIA a great deal of angst, if LePage’s experience is anything to go by.
“It’s a nightmare. It was four years of constant stress,” he says.