With the St. John's pedestrian mall set to close, fans renew their call to extend its season

·4 min read
Alick Tsui captured this warm scene from one of the pedestrian mall's final nights in 2020. (Submitted by Alick Tsui - image credit)
Alick Tsui captured this warm scene from one of the pedestrian mall's final nights in 2020. (Submitted by Alick Tsui - image credit)
Submitted by Alick Tsui
Submitted by Alick Tsui

As Labour Day approaches — the day of the end of the St. John's pedestrian mall — some downtown business owners and patrons are calling for an extension of the season.

Launched by the City of St. John's in the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic to drum up more foot traffic for struggling restaurants and retail shops, the pedestrian mall has proved a hit with the public. But come Monday, the long stretch of Water Street will reopen to vehicles — and many businesses are sorry to see it go.

Peg Norman, owner of the Travel Bug on Water Street, told CBC News this summer was another successful season for her business, surpassing last year's totals.

But when the mall closes for the season, Norman said she expects business to plummet.

"Compared to 2020 and compared to 2021 I expect that my sales will drop by 36 per cent," she said.

"It makes a huge difference in terms of how many people I employ, how much money I spend on inventory."

Norman is part of the movement pushing for the city to keep the mall open deeper into September. She said lengthening the season could also lure prospective business owners downtown to fill some of the area's vacancies.

"I'm curious as to why council has been so reluctant to have a conversation about extending it," said Norman.

"I think that by extending the pedestrian mall for a longer season you'll see more and more businesses relocating or opening new in the downtown core and that can only be good for everybody. It's a no-brainer, as far as I'm concerned."

Mike Moore/CBC
Mike Moore/CBC

Norman isn't alone.

Customer Benny Malone said the mall has raised people spirits.

"I would have liked to have seen it extended to the end of September," he said.

Impact on businesses, good and bad

In a statement to CBC News, the city said the mall's dates — from June 30 to Labour Day — coincide with peak tourism season, school closures and staycations. Restaurant patios can remain in place until Oct. 31.

On Friday, Coun. Debbie Hanlon —  the city's lead on the pedestrian mall — told CBC News the city is looking for feedback so it can plan for next summer.

Hanlon said not all businesses are on board with extending the mall's timeline past Labour Day, and not everybody is benefiting.

"We're trying to find a balance. It's great to hear from retailers and restaurateurs, the businesses that are doing so well from it, but that's not everyone," said Hanlon.

"There are other businesses that are reaching out to us when we do our feedback that are negatively impacted."

CBC
CBC

Hanlon said the city's budget for the mall is $200,000 for cleaning and security services. She said extending the mall beyond Sept. 5 could cost another $100,000.

Neal Loucka, co-owner of Sound Salon Spa, said he's indifferent to extending the mall's season.

The salon shook things up this year with its own patio on Water Street, he said, catering to its customers with cocktails in the sun and foot soaks. But as the weather cools, Loucka said, the patio idea makes less sense for his business.

"If I'm going to bet on the weather, I'm probably going to come up short. The weather has been great and September is usually OK but once it gets colder for us our patio, for sure, won't be as useful," he said.

"We're kind of on the fence with this one. We're not really sure where we stand on it.… As tourism slows down, with travelling slowing down in the particular season we're transitioning to, it makes more sense for us to kind of get back to normal. That being said it would still probably be lucrative for us if this were to continue through September."

Ready for fall

Farther east on Water Street, Maverick Sports and Collectibles enjoyed another bustling summer.

Owner Andrew Corbett said the weather certainly helped, along with one specific highlight in particular — NHL star Alex Newhook of St. John's parading the Stanley Cup through downtown.

"The Colorado Avalanche stuff was huge for the last month," said Corbett. "Everything we had that day in a shirt or a hat was gone. It was incredible."

But with summer drawing to a close, Corbett said, he's ready for Water Street to reopen to vehicles.

"Although our weather has been great, it starts to turn a little bit. I think at that point in time [the mall] is probably beneficial to some of the restaurants and people with the decks still," he said.

"But to us in the retail business I think it then starts turning to be a bit more of a detriment."

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