Downtowns Atlantic Canada has released a report containing research focused on Maritime downtowns and main streets and the businesses that have settled within them.
The survey first began last year and continued throughout 2023. The goal of the survey was to see how businesses in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Price Edward Island are fairing with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic still being felt. The report’s biggest focus was on what businesses considered to be their greatest challenge, as well as what they viewed as the best opportunity to help their area recover to their pre-pandemic levels.
More than 1,700 businesses took part in the census’ opinion part where they revealed the following as their five biggest challenges:
Inflation and current economic conditions;
Lack of foot traffic/online shopping;
[Perceived] security and street issues
Other areas of concern included marketing and construction issues.
Matthew Smith is the co-owner of Market Price in Halifax, which opened this past summer. He has found parking to be the biggest problem in his short time on the East Coast, and fears it will only worsen in the winter.
“We are not in a big retail centre with a lot of parking and accessibility for a lot of people too issue,” says Smith. “If you are a little bit older or have mobility issues it’s hard to get around Halifax in the winter.”
In Saint John’s uptown core, security has been the biggest area of focus.
“That would be probably the first challenge within our city centre at this moment,” says Nancy Tissington, who is the executive director of the Uptown Saint John Business Improvement Association.
Some of those challenges are also seen as opportunities for those same businesses. The greatest opportunity to grow are as followed:
District mix (variety in restaurants and retail shops);
More events and programs;
Increased foot traffic and shop local programs
Saint John has led the charge in the shop local programs, having introduced an “uptown gift card” that can only be spent at participating stores in the city.
“We have over 100 businesses right now that participate in this,” Tissington says. “The money stays here so it is purchased here and stays here. We hit $150,000 I believe and we have been at it for 18 months.”
“Our businesses will not be successful unless they have the help and support of the general public,” says Downtowns Atlantic Canada executive director Ken Kelly. “It is worth going down and walking through that door and have the skill and knowledge those owners have about the particular good or service. They are they types of people that will go to great lengths to accommodate their customers.”
Kelly says support from the municipal, provincial, and federal levels of governments will be need to help address the issues, and act on the opportunities businesses have raised. He says downtowns have always been the indicator of a community’s relative health.
“The downtowns and main streets are that symbol of vitality and vibrancy of any community,” he says “And it’s in our collective interest to ensure that they it remains so.”
The reports full findings can be found on Downtowns Atlantic Canada’s website.