Visitors mingle with artists during a recent event in the Downtown Keel Row temporary pedestrian space on Summerside’s Water Street. Colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer
SUMMERSIDE — Tim MacKay estimates he’s lost at least $200 a day in revenue this summer.
MacKay, owner of Downtown Convenience on Summerside’s Water Street, is one of several business owners in the downtown core who are raising alarm bells over the effect the Downtown Keel Row has had on their business.
“I’ve never heard so many complaints (from customers),” said MacKay.
Water Street between Summer and Spring streets has been closed to traffic since July 14 for various festivals and events.
The Summerside Lobster Festival and Wyatt Heritage Properties Inc. were the primary providers of entertainment for the space from July 14 to 19, then Downtown Summerside Inc. took over. It called the space Downtown Keel Row and billed it as a pedestrian area, filling it with picnic tables and scheduling almost daily entertainment.
Keel Row was supposed to attract people and business to the downtown core, but some, like MacKay, say it’s done the opposite for them.
MacKay said the first couple of weeks the street was closed there was a lot going on, and plenty of people around so businesses was OK. But as the entertainment and attractions tapered off, so did interest in the area.
Arts in Motion, a yearly event for the downtown, has continued to attract people, but it’s only for a couple of hours every day, said MacKay, so when it leaves the street empties.
Beamer Sadiku, of Beamer’s A1 Pizza, isn’t located directly on the closed section of the street, but he’s close enough that he’s noticed people complaining about the reduction in parking, about 10 spaces in total.
Sadiku said he has seen more tourists around the shop, but far fewer of his local regulars have been buying pizza.
Carol Peters, owner of Sheen’s for Shoes, is on the closed section of street and has witnessed a similar downturn in her normally brisk summer season.
Peters said she had high hopes for the event and was originally excited that someone, anyone, was trying something new and exciting in the downtown.
But as her revenues have continued to decline, she’s grown more worried about her prospects for this year.
The situation deteriorated to the point where, in late July, MacKay and several other downtown business owners asked for the street to immediately be reopened to traffic.
“We said, we understand what they’re trying to do, we know they’re trying to help us, we’re not against them in any way, shape or form. But the fact is, we’re losing business and this didn’t work. So cut your losses and open the street,” said MacKay.
Their request to reopen it outright was denied, however, Downtown Summerside has since agreed to open the street earlier than the scheduled end date of Sept. 1. The last day of entertainment on Downtown Keel Row will now be Aug. 16.
Brent Gallant, president of Downtown Summerside Inc., said Friday he was aware of the concerns brought forward by this group of business people but reiterated that something new had to be tried for the downtown.
“It’s a difficult thing. You know, you try to move forward and I guess some people found that it adversely affected them — that’s not something we want to see happen,” he said, adding this feedback is why they are cutting the closure short.