Police step up downtown foot patrols as Sydney shops try to rebound

·2 min read

Cape Breton Regional Police are stepping up foot patrols in downtown Sydney at the request of local business owners.

It's been a difficult year for retailers because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses that have so far survived 2020 are now trying to protect against thefts as holiday shoppers return to the downtown core.

"You're a little bit busier and you're not maybe paying as much attention," said Bruce Meloney, owner of Rieker by the Shoe Tree on Charlotte Street.

"It's an easy time to be targeted by would-be thieves who want to steal."

Hard to ID mask-wearing thieves

A Shoe Tree employee grabbed a shoebox for sizing last week only to realize it was empty.

Meloney said he believes a woman snagged a pair of expensive boots by tucking them underneath a cape she was wearing.

The store is monitored by security cameras, but identifying a suspect has become more difficult due to pandemic protocols.

"With masks on, it's harder to say, 'Oh, I know who that person is now,'" said Meloney. "And that's why I'd love to have just a police presence, just for simple things like that."

Police patrols returning

Last week, during an education session with police on biker gang activity in the local area, members of Sydney's business community asked the force why regular foot patrols were stopped in the downtown core.

Acting police chief Robert Walsh responded that there had been very little foot traffic in the area.

"For a long while there wasn't a presence in the downtown community, in the downtown core," he said.

After the meeting, the police service committed to increasing its presence downtown during the shopping season.

Michelle Wilson, executive director of the Sydney Downtown Development Association, said preventing thefts is always better than trying to solve shoplifting crimes.

"We always appreciate when the police have enough resources to put someone downtown," she said. "It creates an extra sense of safety and security — not only for our customers, but for our business owners and staff, as well."

Campaign to attract customers

For many retailers who survived the first difficult months of the pandemic, Christmas sales are crucial.

A cancelled cruise ship season this year has brought hardships to several downtown merchants.

For many, the hope is shoppers will spend their holiday dollars locally.

"We always rely more heavily on the Christmas season," said Wilson. "For a lot of people, year end is December 31st … and it's right before a few really slow months."

To draw more visitors to local businesses, the association is issuing a challenge to light up downtown Sydney.

The campaign aspires to have 30,000 lightbulbs glowing outside downtown buildings and in window displays.