April 24, 2015 - 8:16 AM
We have two different stories taking place at opposite sides of the city: On the north end, we’re seeing upheaval in the commercial, big box store world with the departure of Target, Future Shop, and retail outlets in the Village Green Centre.
But for every store that closes in the mall, a local ‘mom and pop’ shop seems to open at the south side of the city. I’ve noticed a number of new businesses in the downtown core, each featuring a heartwarmingly local flavour.
There’s EATology, a popular new restaurant at the Greyhound Station, and beside it, a food cart vendor called Ratio Coffee, the proprietor of which can be seen conversing with locals throughout the day. Down the road, there’s the Okanagan Skate Co. which features men and women’s clothing and skateboards.
It’s exciting to see local people doing what they love in the heart of the city, and I admire them for taking a leap of faith into downtown Vernon. But if we want them to stay and be there for us when we need our espresso and gourmet sandwich, we, and our city hall, need to support them, and that means getting creative.
Vernon has long been faced with the question of how to get more people downtown. Businesses lament the lack of foot traffic, and many have been forced to close down. And while many people continue to complain about the situation, the Downtown Vernon Association has at least tried to do something about it. It might not be the only solution, but the Avenue Market is one way the association is hoping to generate interest in the downtown core.
It was disappointing, then, to see the local city council dance around the idea at a recent public meeting. The Downtown Vernon Association was seeking approval to offer the Friday evening market for a second year, but instead of talking about the good it was doing for downtown, council focussed on the negative: a few businesses that are not in favour of the plan.
I understand that council has a duty to represent everyone’s interests, but they more than anyone should know that you can’t always make everyone happy. It would have been encouraging to hear a conversation about how the businesses could be accommodated rather than watching council discuss barring the market unless a majority of shopkeepers supported it (93 per cent do.)
The Avenue Market isn’t the only imaginative idea I’ve heard about lately. The concept of a food truck plaza has been talked about, and it’s more ideas like this I’d like to see Vernon look at. The downtown core has people’s attention right now, and is clearly filling a desire for a more local experience than the city’s big box stores provide. With a little creativity and a willingness to experiment, I think we could make some magic happen. I just hope government bureaucracy doesn't get in the way of some exciting ideas.
This could be downtown Vernon’s moment to shine, so let’s not waste it.
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