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'A ghost town:' Business owners unhappy with Main Street closure

Some business owners say they aren't reaping the benefits the pedestrian friendly downtown has brought to others
People and their pups took to Main Street Saturday.

The closure of Main Street to vehicular traffic offers a space for events and community collaboration, but not every business owner is happy with the idea.

Weekend events are held on the closed portion of Main Street between Water Street and Ainslie from late May to October. 

But while the weekend might see an influx of people, the owner of Sugar Daddies, Greg Gardner, sees the closure during rest of the week as a hindrance to their business. 

"We're basically asking the opposite of what they want in Hespeler," said Gardner. "When people are here on the weekend it's okay, but during the week it's basically a ghost town." 

The issue Gardner and other shops are having is the inconvenience of having the front of their stores closed to traffic, forcing their customers to find parking and walk to their establishments. 

Gardner's traffic dips during the week because of it. 

"Like I said before, 80 per cent of our business comes from out of town, some of them just want to park and run in and grab a cupcake, not park and walk 10 minutes." 

The local BIA did not respond to a request for comments about the road closure. 

Another business having issues with the closure is the Krajewski Gallery. The gallery also offers museum-quality custom picture framing for home and office, designed and executed by professional and experienced staff, according to their website. 

"I am not a big fan of the closure," said Anna Krajewski, one of the gallery owners. "Not only do we have to deal with our customers not being able to come and park by our store, we have people driving too fast in the parking lot behind us." 

Krajewski would also like to see the street opened back up during the week to increase traffic to her business. 

"Having the road closed for six months is not what I paid for with this location," she added. 

The City of Cambridge has made it a point to revitalize the downtown core and create placemaking opportunities such as the Main Street closure. 

James Goodram is the former director of economic development for the City of Cambridge and previously told CambridgeToday that shops and businesses get the opportunity to get out and get involved with the community.

"We are seeing truly amazing things when it comes to this project," Goodram said. "We are seeing Main Street vacancy rates drop from 9 per cent to 4 per cent, which is huge." 

Following the first year of the program in 2021, the city asked residents and business owners to comment on the temporary closures and 133 responses came into the Engage Cambridge website with all respondents liking the idea and most wanting it to continue.

Respondents said they thought it created a sense of community, improved the atmosphere of the downtown, made them feel it was a safer place to visit and provided the ability for residents to enjoy extended patios. 

Some concerns were heard about traffic impacts, but 86 per cent said they would like to see the road closures continue in future seasons. 

Two years later, those sentiments may have changed.

In a letter shared with CambridgeToday by Gardner, Main Street businesses are looking for answers from the Downtown BIA and Engage Waterloo Region on the closure and how it has been affecting their neighbours. 

"While we understand the intention behind the road closure is to enhance the overall experience for residents and visitors, it has come to our attention that this decision has not been beneficial to the majority of businesses in the downtown area," reads the letter. 

"Many of us feel that this initiative has been to the detriment of our businesses, while only benefiting a select few." 

The letter asks for the results of the Engage WR survey to be shared with stakeholders and the financial impact report on businesses in the downtown core be released to better understand the impacts of the closure. 

"Again if this was something that happened on the weekend, it wouldn't be as bad, but trying to deal with a situation where there is already a huge lack of parking is frustrating," added Gardner. 

Main Street opens back up on Oct. 9. It is unknown if the city and Downtown BIA will continue the road closure in 2024. 

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Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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