By John R. Moodie
Giant Tiger closed its Front Street store Friday, leaving downtown residents without a grocery store.
Aurora Mancuso, owner of the La Favorita Italian restaurant, says the elderly who live in the nearby high-rise have no place to buy food.
“They don’t drive. If they are starving, they have no place to go unless they pay $20 for a taxi to go buy milk and bread,” said Mancuso.
The La Favorita restaurant is located next door to Giant Tiger. Mancuso’s restaurant has been at the location for 20 years.
Mancuso said the downtown has been in serious decline for the past five years.
Kathy Huiskamp, owner of Fusions Creative Collections, gives a similar account.
“In the 15 years, I have watched downtown Belleville decline. A lot of anchor businesses that were here for decades are all gone,” said Huiskamp.
Huiskamp’s store is two doors down from Giant Tiger. She says a lot of her business comes from Giant Tiger customers.
This is not the first time Huiskamps’s business has been affected by the closure of a store. Last year, her other neighbour, Greenley’s Bookstore, also closed its doors.
Huiskamp questions if she will be able to remain in business due to the loss of traffic caused by the closing of the Giant Tiger.
“We are going to see how Christmas goes and take it from there.”
She says big box stores have killed the independent businesses in Belleville.
“We need a grocery store, a shoe store, a pharmacy. We need all those grassroots businesses,” said Huiskamp.
Executive director of the Belleville Downtown Improvement Area, Sarah Tummon, said, “attracting businesses to the downtown can be a challenge due to competition with the mall and big box stores.”
Tummon said a grocery store is important to the revitalization of downtown.
Andy Vedhera, owner of Roluf’s Camera, said half of his business comes from traffic created by Giant Tiger.
Roluf’s Camera has been in business in Belleville for 50 years. Vedhera, who came from Toronto, took over ownership of the store 10 years ago. Roluf’s is across the street from Giant Tiger.
He said the closing of the Giant Tiger, “will surely affect us.”
“It is a big factor. When they come in to buy groceries, they usually come here to buy other stuff. It brings a lot of traffic into the store,” said Vedhera.
He said he could not remain in business if the Canada Post were not operating out of his store.
Bill Saunders, CEO of the Belleville Chamber of Commerce, said the downtown community needs a grocery store.
“I don’t think anyone is happy with losing Giant Tiger. They sell a lot of groceries to people who live in the downtown area,” said Saunders.
He said the Chamber of Commerce is trying to entice another merchant to take over the Giant Tiger location.
Tummon says the Belleville Downtown Improvement Area is working to recruit businesses to the downtown core.
In 2006, the City of Belleville created a master plan to address the needs of downtown. Mayor Neil Ellis has also setup a task force to focus on the issues of downtown and provide guidance to city council.
“The mayor and council are really paying attention to the downtown, and they are putting their time, effort and money into it,” said Tummon.
Huiskamp said there have been a lot of promises made by city hall in the past.
“They said they are watching the downtown. They are watching, but they don’t appear to be really doing much,” said Huiskamp.
“No politician does anything about it,” said Mancuso.
“I would like for the politicians to wake up and do something.”
Listen to story here:http://www.qnetnews.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/giant-tiger-radio-story.mp3