The Ross Street Patio and the number of homeless people in downtown Red Deer may not be the main reasons a business is closing its doors, but they did play a role.
Talk of the Town, a clothing store located on the north side of Ross Street, in the block that becomes the patio during the summer, will close on Feb. 20. Co-owner Nicole Hewitt said on Monday that during the patio season, they get an increase in foot traffic, but a decrease in sales.
“Our sales drop once the patio goes in — traffic increases and sales drop; once the patio comes out, our sales increase and traffic drops,” said Hewitt.
The store loses it street-front parking when the outdoor summer patio is installed.
The downtown patio project began two summers ago. Recently, Red Deer city council renewed the project for another year.
“We really depend on our regulars, too, and each time the patio goes in and it comes out, we lose a share of our regular customers because they go somewhere else and then they forget about us.”
Parking is an issue for the business, with Hewitt calling it the decision-maker. Numerous customers told them that getting to the store because of parking was an issue.
The clothing store has lots of dresses and formal wear still in stock, and is offering discounts of 50 to 75 per cent.
Amanda Gould, Red Deer Downtown Business Association executive director, said when any business closes there are usually many more reasons.
“It does get quite disheartening to hear the reasons for doing so fall entirely on the Ross Street patio,” said Gould. “Especially when the Ross Street patio really contributes so heavily to the vibrancy of our downtown and so often has so much entertainment and activity going on and it’s bustling down there.
“While some businesses may not see increased traffic on a particular day, having the people and activity does increase the awareness of the downtown businesses.”
Talk of the Town has been telling customers and those holding store credit or gift cards about the closure, and put up signage on Jan. 25.
“I’m not blaming it on the patio, but I think that was the decision-maker in the end as to why we decided to close so soon,” said Hewitt.
“We had lots of changes in the works. I had a website going to be launched, we were going to go ahead with renos where we’re at, and then finally I caught wind that the patio might be staying all year round, and they’re really pushing for that. If we’re tied in a lease, that would just kill us right there. I told them, ‘If you guys keep that patio all year round, I give us a year and we’re going to have to close our doors.’ ”
Hewitt also said the number of homeless or street-people who loiter downtown was an issue.
“Our customers are steering away from the downtown for that reason, too,” said Hewitt.
“We’ve only had the store for the three years but we feel like it’s gotten a lot worse over the last year.”
The presence of panhandlers and homeless is a common complaint among downtown business owners, said Gould. But she said that can be seen in the downtowns of many cities.
She said increasing density downtown is a way to help alleviate the homelessness issue.
Part of the solution is the Downtown Business Association’s work with the city’s Social Planning Department to build up the core density, so the homeless presence downtown isn’t as apparent, she said.