There may be no more children queuing up for their favourite flavours while parents catch up with their neighbours on Main Street and tourists enjoy a uniquely seasonal addition to the town centre.
A new bylaw going into second reading on March 22 could see the demise of the iconic Old School Bus Ice Cream, the unique and tasty fast food alternative Thai It Up, and the funky artisan shop Jungle Flare, all seasonally located on a vacant lot on Main Street.
Each of these unique businesses have succeeded in increasing foot traffic to downtown by providing a unique and interesting product and turning a vacant parking lot into a vibrant social square.
Thai It Up has developed a loyal following through marketing of its core products at farmers markets across the province and managing to enter a co-operative with the Summit Café to offer its product on weekends over the winter.
The Old School Bus Ice Cream has not only reached iconic status with our local families, but has been featured in the Lonely Planet guide to Banff, Jasper, and Glacier National Parks. Jungle Flare travels to markets and festivals all over the province and actively promotes visits to Canmore.
Bylaw 4.21.0 states that the purpose for allowing seasonal/temporary businesses is to increase the level of activity on the street and to enhance the appearance of vacant or underutilized sites.
It also clearly states that seasonal or temporary retail businesses will not be encouraged. Unfortunately, the rest of the reading and subheadings are clouded in ambiguity that could mean the demise of these businesses and an empty, underutilized downtown space with a large for sale sign as its frontage.
This would be an extremely unfortunate outcome not only for the businesses involved but, more importantly, for the Town of Canmore. We would lose a core of up and coming businesses (that add vibrancy to the community) that are run by dedicated residents of Canmore. People that live here, hire locally, donate locally, and desire to make their Canmore the best it can be.
We need to support vibrancy in our community, foster diversity and create opportunities for new businesses to establish and grow. Even CEDA’s economic strategy states the “need to support and encourage existing business operations and attract new business by supporting economic activity” and the BRZ’s mandate is “to create a vibrant and busy downtown”.
For many startup businesses, the ability to operate from a vacant space can essentially act as an incubation site to allow growth to the point of finding permanent occupancy in a brick-and-mortar capacity.
Cities such as Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto are all actively promoting street vendors in their community. The City of Seattle specifically has realized that street vendors “create economic vitality, foster festive, pedestrian-friendly streets and allow an entry point to owning your own business.”
Understandably, there have been some concerns raised over these seasonal establishments, downtown businesses apprehensive about competition and the lack of equality in setting up temporary residency.
However, research in other communities has shown quite the opposite to be true. The right vendors encourage people to get out of their vehicles to come and check things out, walk around and ultimately visit the local businesses in the area.
Food vendors in Canmore adhere to strict guidelines involving food safety and sanitation, are frequently inspected, and operate much the same as a brick-and-mortar establishment, complete with business licenses and fees. Retail establishments add unique products from around the world and locally made artisans products right from our backyards.
The town needs to work in cooperation with these businesses to address concerns and allow them to find a viable solution together. Issues such as providing parking and bathrooms can be dealt with by working together and finding creative solutions (that empty parking lot may just see a few cars on it yet).
It would be unfortunate if these establishments were sent to the wayside by a poorly written, ambiguous land use bylaw.
Please support the re-write of land use bylaw 4.21.0 to encourage the seasonal businesses which, in large, is entrepreneurial locals trying to grow their business in an incubation site.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org cc email@example.com and/or attend the land use bylaw second reading at 6 p.m., March 22 in council chambers at the Civic Centre.
Kevin Bellis, Janelle Moodie,
Canmore owners of Thai It Up