The loss of Hudsons pub and restaurant at the corner of Ross Street and Gaetz Avenue is a big blow to the downtown, says a Red Deer commercial realtor.
“It’s in a visible location and has a recognizable name, so people take notice,” said Brett Salomons, of Salomons Commercial. “It will be missed…”
Three factors led to the decision to close Red Deer’s Hudsons outlet on Dec. 28, said the chain’s president, Chris Decock.
“It wasn’t one thing,” he added, citing the cumulative effect of the recessed economy, a provincial minimum wage hike and Red Deer’s struggle with homeless people keeping other residents out of the city’s core.
Decock believes Red Deer is worse hit by the recession than any of the chain’s other locations in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge or Saskatoon.
Like other restaurants and pubs, Hudsons is facing much higher operating costs due to the minimum wage being raised to $15 during these hard times, he added.
And Red Deer has a high number of homeless people in the downtown who are making other residents too uncomfortable to be in the city centre, said Decock.
Other communities also have homelessness issues, but it doesn’t impact their businesses as much as in Red Deer, said Decock. He noted in this smaller, walkable city, the shelters, needle exchanges and soup kitchens are only a few blocks away from the main business area and homeless people are constantly wandering amidst restaurants and shops.
Perhaps Red Deer residents are less familiar, and therefore less comfortable, with seeing homeless people than residents of larger cities, Decock suggested.
Whatever the reason, customers just aren’t coming downtown at night. Hudsons’ revenues on Friday and Saturday after 10 p.m. fell by 70 per cent from last year, he added.
“We loved Red Deer, our staff and customers,” stressed Decock, but continuing in business here was not feasible.
The pending closure of Hudsons is being called “incredibly unfortunate,” by Lisa Spencer Cook, owner of LV’s Vinyl Cafe, located a few doors further west on Ross Street. She feels it will have a devastating effect on other struggling downtown businesses.
Hudsons Canada’s Pub, which employs more than 40 people, had brought a younger demographic to the city’s centre — people who would go for lunch or a drink and then visit other stores, added Spencer Cook.
While Hudsons is the latest of several downtown businesses to close their doors or change ownership in recent months, Salomons has seen this happen before in recessionary times. And he has no doubt the downtown will recover in the longer term.
He feels some people are seeing things with a “recency bias” — meaning their perceptions are based on recent events, such as oilfield businesses moving their offices out of Alberta to the U.S.
Regardless of what happens with the oilfield, Salomons feels Alberta has a positive future with a wealth of resources, including agriculture, tourism, forestry and minerals.
Can more be done by the City of Red Deer or the Downtown Business Association to help struggling core businesses?
Decock believes the City of Red Deer needs to get a handle on the homeless problem and reset a better balance between businesses and social service agencies in the downtown.
Spencer Cook wants the DBA to step up its social media marketing efforts and begin rebranding efforts quickly.
Salomons suggested further red-tape reduction, as well as speeding up permits so Red Deer becomes even more business friendly. Business owners should be treated like customers instead of applicants by the city, he added.
“They should be asking them: how can I work with you to help make this happen?”
Salomons believes municipal officials are becoming aware that a healthy business climate is needed to keep the downtown remain vital. Land use and zoning should not be the only considerations, he added.