By Sarah Schofield
Despite the changes made to downtown Belleville, many retailers are not certain whether the efforts on the part of Belleville’s police, mayor’s task force and Belleville Downtown Improvement Area committee are enough to bring new customers into the area.
Carol Barratt, owner of Barratt’s Office Pro downtown Belleville, had good things to say about the yellow jacket program.
“I think it’s a good idea. A lot of people say, “‘What are they there for?’. You see them on the street and the seniors feel safer. The more bodies on the street, the better business. It’s great.”
Karin Belanger of Scalliwag Toys on Front Street had mixed opinions.
“I’ve only ever seen the yellow jackets once, maybe twice since the new year. I don’t think Belleville has a crime problem. We’ve never had any problems. The most we’ve had are a few thefts but whether we were were located at the Quinte Mall or here, I believe we would have the same level of theft.”
Sherry Rice, a Belleville citizen of five years, noticed the lack of activity in the area.
“The thing I find is that downtown Belleville is for the people who live there. No one shops downtown because it’s known as a bad area. I’ve never had any problem but if I’m going at night I watch myself. I don’t trust the people there.”
Patricia Mitchell, owner on Front Street of the year-old The Studio, said the responsibility to bring business into the area is not the city’s but that of the retailers.
“A lot of the merchants like myself have not been here that long but for the merchants who have been here slogging it on this street for years, I can understand them not really listening or paying attention because there are so many of us that come and go,” she said.
“I think the people down here are used to not being taken seriously in their concerns and there is definitely a lack of focused priorities.”
“They can say they want more customers but when it comes to how they want to do it the merchants themselves never seem to be consulted.”
Plans are in place by Belleville’s Mayor Neil Ellis’ task force to improve the construction and facade of stores over the next four to five years starting with Campbell Street to make the downtown more accessible.
“I think overall people want their downtown to thrive. It’s a matter of waiting for the capital to pass the mandate and once we do we’ll go full steam ahead and make Belleville one of the best areas in Ontario,” said Mayor Ellis.
Mike Malachowski, a board member of the BDIA and owner of Funk & Gruven A-Z on Bridge Street East, is satisfied with the changes that have been made so far.
“One of the big changes is the renewed sense of optimism, and strong sense of community building that is going on right now. There was a lot of community interest and then it kind of waned but now we seem to have recaptured it. I think it’s owed in large part to the mayor’s task force. It’s attracting development and progressive thinking retailers.”
Marina Boretski attributes the success of her shop, Boretski Gallery, to the advertising the city has done the past couple years and the hard work of the task force.
“I see interest in people coming from out of town and they become regular customers. So there are things in the Belleville downtown core that interest them that they don’t have in their own city.”
“I I feel that with the mayor and also the revitalization committee there is a greater amount of interest and I think they understand now that a downtown is utterly important to any city. “