ByWard Market grocers feel left behind as city prioritizes patios over parking

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Some ByWard Market grocers say the city’s strategy to help restaurants and bars survive the COVID-19 pandemic is also deterring customers from visiting their stores.Isaac Farbiasz, who owns ByWard Fruit Market with his wife, bluntly attributes the “severe downturn” to the city’s decision to allow bars and restaurants to expand patio spaces into parking spaces and redirect streets to accommodate. other street closures.

Farbiasz said food sales along the ByWard Market Square had already been strong during the pandemic, around the time businesses pivoted to limit collection and deliveries.

Several nearby stores even came together and coordinated deliveries in the spring, allowing customers to purchase products like cheese, fruits and vegetables, fish and meat on the same order.

“It was crazy,” Farbiasz said. “We were all incredibly busy and really stressed out. ”

But from July, business started to slow down considerably. Farbiasz estimates that revenues are now down about 25 percent from the same period last year.

Isaac Farbiasz has owned ByWard Fruit Market with his wife for 21 years. He says he feels forgotten as the city struggles to help restaurants and bars recover. (Michel Aspirot / CBC)

‘I can’t park, I can’t drive’

As of July 16, the city closed William Street from George Streets to York Streets, ByWard Market Square from York to Clarence Streets, Clarence Street from William Streets to Dalhousie Streets and the north side of York Street from Byward. Market Square in Sussex Drive.

ByWard Market Square was also converted to southbound traffic to compensate for the closure of York Street.

Farbiasz said the plan led to both traffic congestion and driver confusion.

“It completely ruined the traffic. Customers say, “We don’t stay here, it’s impossible. I cannot park. I can’t drive, ”said Farbiasz.

While many customers can do their shopping on foot, not everyone wants or is able to carry their groceries several blocks from their car.

On July 16, the City of Ottawa rerouted the direction of traffic along ByWard Market Square and closed several streets to allow for patio expansion, including the north side of York Street, seen here at the far right. (Michel Aspirot / Radio-Canada)

John Diener, owner of Saslove’s Meat Market, said his family business also saw sales drop 25% from the same period in 2019.

Diener wants the city to better promote the hundreds of parking spaces in the garages of the Byward Market, which remain fairly empty even though the streets are crowded with cars.

“There’s a garage almost right on our doorstep which has multiple levels of parking,” he says. “There are lots of parking spaces. People don’t necessarily see it. ”

Diener said he also wanted the city to make parking at municipal market garages free of charge, in the same way that drivers were not charged for parking at Ottawa City Hall on evenings and nights. weekends during construction on Elgin Street.

Adjustment period

Laila Gibbons, the city’s director of roads and parking services, said in an email that the ability to convert parking spaces to patios has been available since 2017.

Although there is a “natural driver adaptation period” when changes are made to roads, the city has installed orientation signs to help drivers navigate the market, she said.

Gibbons also said the city is not exploring the idea of ​​making parking garages free, but is promoting the two municipal garages in the neighborhood on social media and with road signs.

The two garages are operating at around half of their capacity, she said.

John Diener owns the Saslove Meat Market on ByWard Market Square. The business was passed to him by his father, who bought it in the 1950s (Michel Aspirot / Radio-Canada)

Diener said another option could be to allow parking during the day and convert the spaces to patios after 4 p.m., when most buyers are at home and diners are out.

The city had previously said it expected street closures and patios to remain in place in the Byward Market until the end of September.

“I understand how much it is necessary [the city’s patio plan] was for the restaurants, which really took a big hit for three months being almost completely closed. Certainly something drastic had to be done to help them, ”said Diener, whose only butcher’s shop is left in the Byward Market.

“But unfortunately, it had an impact on retailers operating during the day,” he added. “I think they forgot that retail, especially food retail, was what the market was built on. “

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