Panhandling and prostitution complaints hit nerve, but city to focus on diversifying retail amenities
There’s a gap between what the ByWard Market is and what Mathieu Fleury, the city councillor for the area, wants it to become.
© Cole Burston
Phil Waserman is the owner of the Courtyard Restaurant.
For many, the Market is characterized by panhandlers, bar-hoppers and university students out for a wild night on the town. Mr. Fleury said he’s well aware of the issues but sees no reason why families and tourists can’t frequent the area outside of the “rowdiness” that takes place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening.
“The rest of the time, I’d say it’s friendly to everyone so I don’t know that it’s in conflict,” said Mr. Fleury. “What I think is that we can really utilize and promote the behaviours we’d like and the activities that we’d like to make it what it should be.”
The area plays a big role as a tourist attraction in the city. It’s close to Parliament Hill and is frequently emphasized in travel manuals detailing the highlights of Canada’s capital.
But concerns about the Market continue to persist, as was the case last month when talk about the area’s “underbelly” touched a nerve with those on social media.
Mark Hayes, who works in the ByWard Market, wrote a blog post in mid-January complaining about his encounters with panhandlers and prostitutes in the area. The post generated 128 comments on the social networking site Reddit, many of which echoed similar concerns.
Mr. Fleury said there’s only so much the city and local business can do about those matters. What he’s hoping to do instead is emphasize the elements of which he’d like to see more.
He cited the example of not having enough places to eat breakfast in the area. If there were more morning eateries, he said, families would be willing to spend more of the day seeing what the area has to offer.
Phil Waserman, who owns the Courtyard Restaurant on George Street, said he doesn’t have too many problems with panhandlers but would like to see a greater mix of stores. He believes bars and clubs have taken on too much prominence in the area and need to be offset with more options.
“As you lose retail, there’s nothing left except restaurants and bars to draw people and that’s not in itself an attraction,” said Mr. Waserman.
“People come down to do other shopping and then make dining out or going to a club part of that experience, but if that’s the only experience you have I don’t think that bodes well for the future.”
Mr. Waserman said he’s noticed the number of retail options steadily decline over the past 15 years.
The city is exploring how to revitalize the area.
It invited a team of New York consultants to the area last fall to tour the Market and have a look at ways to bring back some of the fresh produce vendors that used to set up shop in the area. That report is due to be tabled in April.
SIDEBAR: Food retailer opening in March
Concern about the mix of retailers in the ByWard Market came to a head in the summer of 2011 when a long-standing food seller, the Fresh Fruit Co. at 51 York St., closed.
Vendors in the area worried the store’s demise was a sign that bars and restaurants were slowly taking over the area.
The city, which manages the property, conducted a search for a new tenant and eventually settled on Olive & Chili Foods & Family Inc.
The business is supposed to begin operations in March of this year. It will specialize in “fresh food prepared on the premises intended for at-home consumption,” according to a city statement e-mailed to OBJ.