City Hall moved quickly this week to approve a downtown pedestrian zone.
Christina will be closed to cars this weekend – and every summer weekend this year - so shoppers and restaurant-goers can spread out onto sidewalks.
The idea is to bring people back downtown by using the street to make physical distancing easier, says Allan Calvert, CEO of the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce.
Sidewalks will be used for merchandise displays and restaurant seating, while the road becomes a pedestrian walkway.
The pandemic has devastated local small businesses, forcing some to decide which utility bill they will pay this month, Calvert said. Something significant needs to be done to make people want to shop and eat out again.
“These are desperate times and there’s no point in holding a big sale downtown that drives volumes of people to an area without considering their safety.”
Three weeks ago, he and Chamber President Mary Jean O’Donnell began knocking on the doors of every downtown resident and business owner to see if a pedestrian-friendly zone would be well received.
More than 90% supported closing four blocks of Christina Street from George to Wellington on summer weekends, said Calvert.
“There are some who had very good reasons for not wanting it, like the shopkeepers who have laid off staff and are working their stores by themselves,” he said. “But the great majority are in favour.”
The international border closure will keep the vital U.S. shoppers away for the foreseeable future, so Sarnians need to use their own downtown, said Calvert.
“Shop local, shop local, shop local. I can’t say that enough.”
Other cities including Kingston, St. Catharines, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fergus have also closed downtown streets to all but pedestrian and bicycle traffic, he said.
“It’s a big success elsewhere. Some are saying their biggest complaint is there are so many people that parking is a problem.”
City council agreed Monday to approve the concept on a trial basis and waive the fees required to pay staff to put street barricades up and empty the garbage.
The first weekend will cost the city $1,730 and subsequent weekends will cost $1,425, money coming from a major events assistance fund.
“I’m thrilled with the co-operation of everyone on this,” said Calvert. “This should have taken two to three months to put together but in three weeks, we’re there.”
Christina Street will close from 4 p.m. Friday to 8 p.m. Sunday, starting July 17 and continuing until Sept. 27.
“If it doesn’t go over well in the first two or three weekends, we’ll pull the plug,” Calvert added.