Nelson council sends a clear message
I attended last Monday’s council meeting regarding the amendment to the dog bylaw with more than just a passing interest.
First, I am a dog owner who lives above Baker Street and works below. I constantly cross Baker Street with Phoenix in tow (although sometimes he has me in tow!) both to and from work; and, often take the opportunity to multitask by walking him around the core while paying my bills to the many local merchants who provide goods and services to my business.
Secondly, I am a business owner who very intimately empathizes with the plight of Baker Street merchants as the very retail landscape shifts under our feet. So, I was very much in favour of council changing the bylaw to allow dogs on Baker Street.
Council’s decision to leave the bylaw unchanged was disheartening indeed, but not so much as the message the decision sent to Baker Street merchants. Once again, council missed an opportunity to support the merchants by letting them know that council understands the challenges facing retailers today. Instead, by ignoring the overwhelming desire by business to change the bylaw (87 per cent in favour), council reminded business that their voice does not matter. Even though business is on the frontline interacting with locals and tourists every day, council ignored their assertions that amending this bylaw would remove one impediment from their daily business lives.
We all understand that allowing dogs on Baker Street is not the panacea to the issues facing downtown merchants. In fact, the challenges are myriad and include local issues over which we exert some control such as: dogs, amenity areas, parking, public washrooms, sandwich boards, etc.
In addition, retailers face daunting macroeconomic issues which we cannot control including: a high Canadian dollar driving away US tourists, increased cross-border shopping limits luring shoppers south of the border, expanding acceptance of on-line shopping, big box retailers in nearby centres, and a significant downturn in our underground “green” economy as the US tightens its borders, individual states pass less restrictive possession laws, and the backdoor legalization of medicinal marijuana. All of these factors conspire to make the business environment a minefield for local retailers.
The health of our community is dependent upon successful local businesses and, in particular, a vibrant downtown core. Baker Street merchants wake up each day with the hope and expectation that city council is in their corner. However, despite the platitudes coming from City Hall that they are business friendly, last week’s decision proved, yet again, that council is full of nothing more than hot air.
Actions speak louder than words, but the words coming from City Hall were heard loud and clear, and sure sound hollow to me.