After trying to make a go of things for more than a year, downtown business owner Grace Dansereau is closing TaDa, a small boutique on Central Avenue.
She’s not pointing her finger at anyone, but notes that a lack of foot traffic in the area was enough to sink her business.
“It’s just dead on Central Avenue,” she concluded. “It’s just dead.”
Even the Prince Albert Farmer’s market move to the city’s downtown core during the summer hasn’t helped things, and has in fact hindered her business.
Every summer, the market sets up shop on Central Avenue a block south of TaDa, cutting off traffic making its way north up the one-way street.
“It caused the traffic to leave the street and it won’t come back,” Dansereau said. “If they had kept them on the side streets it would have been fine.”
Neighbour Tom Gertz, who opened up Swayback Antiques about eight months ago, agrees.
“I think my biggest issue with the downtown, now, is with the Farmer’s Market in summer time where they block off the streets,” he said. “That destroys our business here, on this north end.
“When the traffic is diverted … they absolutely miss this whole end. They’re going to totally bypass us, here.”
With TaDa’s Feb. 16 closure, Swayback Antiques will become bookended by two empty storefronts. A coffee shop to the south of the antique shop closed in December.
Although less than two blocks away from a large public parking lot, both Dansereau and Gertz said that parking is an issue, with people using the McIntosh Mall eating up most of the limited parking spots along their block of Central Avenue.
“People won’t walk more than a block or two -- it’s just the way it is,” Dansereau said.
Accompanying her many criticisms of the city’s downtown core are a handful of suggestions.
The city should be doing a lot more to promote its “historic downtown,” she said, noting that this is not something one or even a handful of business owners can do on their own.
“I over-ran my advertising budget last year trying to get it really kick started and going, but when you’re just an individual small business operated by one person, you can’t put out that much,” she said.
It’s just dead on Central Avenue. - Grace Dansereau
Signs advertising and pointing people to the city’s downtown could help, she said.
Spreading the message that the city’s downtown core isn’t a dangerous place should also be a priority, Gertz said.
“There are people who are just terrified about coming here,” he said. “The downtown area -- they’re just scared to come here.”
Dansereau said that she’s had shoplifters come into her store from time to time, but that it’s probably at the same level of theft experienced elsewhere in the city.
The city’s downtown core does come with its challenges, but these are challenges the Prince Albert Downtown Improvement District Association is trying to face, board chair Fred Matheson said.
“We don’t have anybody who’s got a single solution to change everything,” he said, adding that they’ll find success by keeping a positive attitude and by working toward improving things.
Like most other cities in Canada, Prince Albert has a new alternative shopping center that pulls from its downtown core -- in our case, the Cornerstone Shopping District.
“It’s new and it’s shiny and everyone wants to try it,” Matheson said.
But, he added, it doesn’t have at least two things that downtown has -- history and the potential to become a social, community centerpiece.
Matheson himself owns and operates Ted Matheson’s Men’s Wear – a business that has been in his family and in Prince Albert’s downtown area for 84 years.
“I wouldn’t want to be located anywhere else,” he said.
As for the Prince Albert Downtown Improvement District Association, he said that there are plenty of things on the horizon, including street fairs, marketing efforts, cleanup, a student ambassador program, a grant program to help pay for business front renovations and other initiatives.
“We’re always looking for ideas and for people to help out,” he said. “What we … need to do is not give up on the downtown.”