Watch out for the red shirts.
The Chamber of Commerce’s latest initiative aimed at addressing vagrancy and street culture downtown involves sending red-clad volunteers to shake hands and greet tourists and residents up and down Baker Street.
First up: Mike Borch of Baker Street Menswear and Justin Pelant of Ted Allen’s Jewellery. The pair hit Nelson’s main drag recently and were thrilled with the result.
“It was very well received and in three hours we met with around 15 tourists and helped them find their way around our beautiful town,” former chamber president Pelant posted on Facebook on July 29, earning likes from other members of the business community.
Executive director Tom Thomson thinks it’s a great idea.
“This has been something we’ve been kicking around for a short period of time. Right around the time the businesses were issuing concerns about the downtown core, Justin decided we need to move forward as a business community and do something proactive.”
Pelant was tired of sitting on his hands.
“Justin took it as a personal initiative. He’s a very keen guy who works downtown and he sees the social issues happening right in front of his door at one of the amenity areas, and he decided he could be another pair of eyes.”
The chamber purchased 12 shirts for the program, and they plan to grow the initiative organically with volunteers from the business community. It’s the latest in a string of community endeavours, starting with the creation of the Street Outreach Team and involving residents such as Bill Lelievre of Blue Paint — who has vowed to paint over graffiti on a number of downtown walls free of charge.
“I think we’re pleased with the way things have been developing over the past four, five months. The downtown police officer does their component, the Street Culture team does their component, and then the ambassadors can be another set of folks downtown working the streets.”
Thomson’s been downtown this summer, and feels slow progress is being made. He’s heard encouraging statistics about vulnerable people being assisted into treatment, a win-win for everybody, while the routine presence of a beat cop has helped keep things under control.
“What we all have to do is take a little piece of this issue, we can’t always wait for somebody else to act. I know there was some frustration from Justin’s perspective and other businesses downtown that it was taking too long for the city to respond to requests,” he said.
“When someone else is taking too long, maybe you come up with your own solution. There’s a group of people who are really engaged downtown, the chamber wants to work with them and keep momentum going with how we’re dealing with these issues so we can come up with the best long-term solution.”
Mayor Deb Kozak was impressed with Pelant’s initiative, and commented on his Facebook post.
“Great work Justin and Mike,” she wrote. “Nice way to get to know Nelson.”