Main Street businesses get reconstructed

Pharmacist Scott Watson acknowledges Main Street traffic may be bad now, but prefers to think of the benefits of a reconstructed thoroughfare.  Photo by Meredith Newberry.

Pharmacist Scott Watson acknowledges Main Street traffic may be bad now, but prefers to think of the benefits of a reconstructed thoroughfare. Photo by Meredith Newberry.

By T.L Di Giacomo

Main Street is looking down a long, hard road, as business owners begin to grapple with the early effects of construction taking place at their front doors.

The long-awaited re-working of Old Ottawa East’s prime thoroughfare is finally underway. Before it is over, the city plans to reduce traffic to two lanes with a centre lane designated for turning. The city will also plant new trees and widen sidewalks. The entire process is expected to take two to three years.

It is largely businesses that will have front-row seats to the expected disruptions.

Many owners are trying to put on a brave face.

“There is no doubt that Main Street construction has caused lots of discussion,” said Scott Watson, owner of Watson’s Pharmacy. “I hear that parking has become more difficult, but I also feel the excitement. Something new and exciting is happening in our neighbourhood.”

Until now, most business owners have not seen much change in their daily lives.

“Most of our customers are either residents in the area or customers at the Green Door, Singing Pebble Books or Three Trees,” said Gabriel Houle, owner of Café Qui Pense. “I find those are businesses that offer something very unique in the city, so people will come anyway for their products.”

Some owners are concerned about how the construction will affect their customers. They have already put plans in place to solve potential problems.

Mika Weaver, owner of Singing Pebble Books, recommended her customers park at the nearby Saint Paul University lot.

“Usually, if (customers are) coming in on evenings and weekends it’s not very full there,” she said. “Their parking meters always work well, and they have good rates.”

Watson plans to negotiate free parking for his customers in the lot behind his pharmacy. He intends to keep the community updated as to his success.

Helen Weaver, part owner of Three Trees, intends to invite her customers in the shop’s back door while the sidewalk in front is being dug up.

“There are so many potholes [and] sewage drainage problems on the street where puddles don’t drain,” she said. “There’s cracked sidewalks (and) there’s very thin sidewalks now. The job really needs to be done. I’m keen for them to just get on and do it.”

Others too, are trying to be diplomatic about the changes they see.

“For us people who are on that street who want to make it more lively, it’s hard to complain about the current state of things when we know it’s going to be so much better for people around our businesses,” Houle said. “It’s a little like renovating one of the rooms in your house. It’s a short-term hassle for a long-term gain.”

Users have cited lack of safety when walking, cycling, or even crossing the street as problems with Main Street in the past.

Some feel, however, that things are going to get significantly worse before they get better.

“My fear is that when people hear that there’s construction going on, they might avoid coming (to Main Street businesses),” said Hugh Proudfoot, day manager of The Green Door.

Proudfoot isn’t alone in his apprehension. Hot Head Tees has changed locations, largely due to the pending construction.

Overall, however, the future seems optimistic.

“I think you just have to remain positive and affect the things you can affect and keep moving forward.” said Watson.

“We’re really excited about the changes that are coming,” agreed Mika Weaver. “I think that Main Street has needed a facelift for a while and we’re really looking forward to the beautified sidewalks with lots of room, and street landscapes. I think it’s going to have a great effect (on the community).”

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