INNISFAIL — Innisfail’s partially revitalized downtown was enjoyed by some early trick or treaters at Saturday’s second annual Pumpkins on Parade.
Pumpkins carved by residents and lit with battery operated tea lights decorated two blocks of 50th Street where work was completed in mid-september.
A cold wind had youngsters bundled in snow suites beneath their costumes as businesses handed out candy and welcomed the foot traffic after construction deterred local customers and visitors during the 18-week-long project.
“I have enough candy for about 700. Last year we had about 500. We’re thinking it’s going to be bigger this year because it’s a little nicer weather. Last year was very cold,” said Carol Ritten Smith, owner of Studio Arts Picture Framing and Scrapbooking.
She said most businesses were hit hard when the street was ripped up to replace water and sewer lines, widen sidewalks, plant trees and install street lamps. Removable benches and planters will be in place in the spring.
“There were days when no customers were on our street. It was like a ghost town. It was bad. We closed for two weeks and I could have closed for the whole month. And I wish I had.”
But the finished result has added some class to the street, Ritten Smith said.
The work is part of a three-year revitalization project that will see 50th Street rebuilt in sections from the centre of downtown to Hwy 2A on the town’s east side.
Ritten Smith and Danna Melnyk, owner of The Gift Loft both worry about the ripple effect their businesses will still have to endure.
Traffic will be re-routed onto the truck route that’s three blocks away when work continues.
“Will (customers) come back into our area or will they just keep going. We’ll be aggressive and try and lessen the impact as much as we can,” Melnyk said.
Events that bring people to the street, like Pumpkins on Parade, will be important, she said.
Tom Lindl, owner of Guitar & Entertainment, said several businesses opened their back doors to customers while work was going on in front and he would have liked some kind of summer back-alley party to draw people back there.
“My business really suffered over the summer. This would have been my first summer. But I’m still here. And I just won small business of the year for the Town of Innisfail. That’s pretty nice for my first year in business,” Lindl said.
Owners advised others who will face similar restrictions next year to keep advertising that they’re open.
“If at all possible have back entrances and places for people to park. Because I had back door access I really believe it helped. And be as positive as you can be,” Melnyk said.
Ritten Smith said she’d prefer the rest of the street work to be condensed.
“We asked them if they could put it all into one year and get it done. But it will be two more years.”
Mayor Jim Romane said the negative impact on businesses was anticipated, but the work was necessary.
“It’s to try and give a more inviting atmosphere to come and shop downtown. We’ve got three or four empty buildings. We have to do something to encourage businesses to come back and consider the downtown area,” Romane said.
And the work came in relatively on schedule and on budget, he said.
Craig Teal, the town’s director of planning and development, said access for the disabled was another problem the re-construction allowed businesses to address.
“At various door fronts leading into businesses we had issues with ramps and stairs. Some businesses picked up universal access to their businesses as we went through the process,” Teal said.
Costs for the first phase are still being tallied, but should be close to the $3.4 million budgeted. The second phase is estimated at about $2.5 to $3 million and about $1.5 to $2 million for the third phase, he said.