Lauren’s post earlier this week about family businesses in peril got me thinking about a recent decision made by our City Council (that’s Vancouver’s City Council) to cancel “car free days” in my local neighbourhood. What do car free days have to do with small business? Give me a minute to explain.
For those who aren’t ’round these parts, Car Free Days (or the Summer Spaces program) are a summertime weekly event happening in several Vancouver neighbourhoods where main streets that run through those neighbourhoods are closed to cars for several hours on a Sunday. The idea being that by creating large and safe public spaces in neighbourhoods that are not car centric, you can build community in different ways, bring people out to interact with one another etc. Frankly, I love the concept (and the execution) and was disappointed to hear that the one in my neighbourhood (Commercial Drive) was being closed down as of last weekend. Until I heard the reason: city staff have been keeping in regular touch with business owners and have heard from 70% of business owners on Commercial Drive that business has suffered during these events, which led to the early shut down of the program in this location. Each of the neighbourhoods where this program is taking place are ‘hoods that are particularly rich in small businesses, often family run, but Commercial Drive perhaps even more than the others. Aside from one new fast food place and a credit union, all of the businesses on the closed strip are small businesses not franchises or chains. While I loved the spirit and the results of the Summer Spaces program (playing giant pickup sticks with your friends on the sidewalk on a sunny Sunday? Awesome!), I love our council and city staff more for responding quickly to the needs of these businesses and in particular the need to preserve their economic well-being so that neighbourhood can keep the diversity and small business feel it currently enjoys. The sitting city council is pretty politically aligned with a program like this, but they didn’t let their politics stand in the way of supporting the needs of being responsive to local businesses and I’m thrilled about a council that can listen to its community like that.
(I do realize that 70% of business owners experiencing a drop in sales means that up to 30% experienced a rise, and it’s shame that both this program and those businesses will now lose out, but I think a 70% majority is a pretty strong barometer to follow).