5 IDEAS IN 5 DAYS, TUESDAY: Let’s get together and drive traffic and business downtown

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
November 13th, 2014

Think of the times when Rossland has most felt alive, and at its best. Did it involve drinking a beer while packed in with a bunch of friends at the ice bar, while watching the rail jam, a band or DJ? Did it happen on the side of a bobsled course? Maybe it was chatting with friends, while picking up fresh fruits and veggies and listening to live music at the Mountain Market? Perhaps it was one of the many “home-made” parades that Rossland does so well. A pancake breakfast at the fire hall?

When I think of Rossland at its best I often think of the great events we have in town when our downtown streets fill with happy, festive people from town and from away. I often tell my folks that the time of year to visit Rossland is during winter carnival. During the spring, summer and fall a big part of our social life catching up with friends and neighbours happens Thursday afternoons at the Farmer’s Market.

Now, if we asked the downtown business owners, what one thing could boost their business the most (and I did ask this to as many as I could talk to), you’d likely here somewhere in the top three, get more people and walking traffic downtown. Once people are downtown, it’s up to the business owners to get them inside, and make the sale, but where the City could really be of additional support is encouraging, and supporting bringing more of the life and vibrancy you see downtown during event days.

When we think about economic drivers for the downtown core, I would argue that two of the biggest are the Winter Carnival and the Mountain Market. Sitting down with Miche Hayden to talk about the Mountain Market a few weeks back, this sounds a lot like the Seven Summits situation I talked about yesterday, whereby you have a few dedicated people, working and volunteering their butts off to make great things like the Mountain Market happen.

This past summer saw 18 Mountain Market’s held at which they estimate an average attendance of around 300 to 400 people. Based on the growth curve she’s seen so far she expects that to easily exceed 500-600 people next summer. That’s more than 6,000 people being brought into the downtown core, with intent to shop and purchase. That is a pretty good assist to the downtown business owners, leaving an opportunity for them to complete the play and nail the slam dunk.

Miche estimates it’s roughly a 30 hour a week job that stretches much of the year-round. She’s volunteering that effort entirely, and unfortunately has been met with less than enthusiastic responses from the City on the few times she’s sought support. The city does provide that block of Queen Street at no charge to the market, but that’s where the support ends

This is a scenario where you have a relatively new local resident in town who has thrown herself completely into making a really excellent and growing Mountain Market happen week after week with great vendors, live music and a social vibe that really is the social event of the week in many ways. Getting behind that to help them go from Good to Great is where the City could jump in with relatively minimal resources to have a potentially large effect of driving downtown business.

Thus far I’ve heard from business owners that they haven’t seen a lot of residual business from the crowd attending the Mountain Market. Part of the answer lies in a need for more cooperation between the Mountain Market, downtown businesses, and The Chamber of Commerce which would be a seemingly natural fit for an initiative that drives big traffic downtown. With the City as a partial funder of the Chamber of Commerce, perhaps we can push for the two to work closer together as they seek mutual goals.

I can imagine growing the weekly market into a bigger street long event, as I detailed in an article I wrote in 2009 for the Rossland Telegraph. Perhaps the City, through the Chamber, could play the role of positioning entertainment, be that a singer, band, or busker at either end of the downtown, say in front of the Library and up at Harry Lefebvre square, that performed at alternate times helping promote the downtown foot traffic to circulate around the street. During that time It would be great to see the Chamber promote its downtown members to participate, and bring an outdoor display out onto the street to better catch the walking traffic. The cost to the city would be minimal, there are likely arts and culture grants that could be tapped into, it would provide more venues to help promote the local music and arts scene, and it would serve up a big assist to the downtown businesses to help them take better advantage of, and tap into the weekly crowds.

The Winter Carnival falls along these same lines, drawing likely the biggest crowds of the year downtown over several continuous days. This again is an almost entirely volunteer effort that pulls off a uniquely Rossland event that brings people out for what is probably the most fun week of the year in town. As I’ve learned from the Carnival’s organizing committee, the City has cut their contribution from $9,000 to $2,000, which is causing them significant headaches in figuring out how to cover that cost and still maintain all of the events.

For the relatively miniscule contribution of $9,000 as well as the in kind services provided, it’s a pretty small investment by the City for a big return. Funding events like Winter Carnival should be looked at through more of an economic impact lense, as opposed to simply funding events. Again cooperation with The Chamber here would be critical to rally the downtown business to get involved in the planning of the events, and participate by bringing out storefront displays at the least, during the event’s high traffic times to capture more of that walking traffic into their businesses.

Small, regular events that bring more animation and life downtown can again increase walking traffic, the sense of life downtown and hopefully more people spending money. Maybe it’s lunch time music in the summers with a different band or musicians setting up in Harry Lefebvre square. As it grows, it becomes a regular thing that people start to time their trips downtown for, or make a special trip. Results, more people downtown, more opportunity for the businesses.

Rosslanders are some of the most keen I’ve seen in terms of not needing much of an excuse or reason to get out for a good time. We have a long history of tremendous volunteer efforts to pull of big scale events with big crowds like the Carnival, Golden City Days, and The Mountain Market among others. Better supporting the events we have with even minor increases in in kind and financial contributions, along with cooperation and collaboration with The Chamber to get the downtown businesses fully on board to best take advantage should result in even more downtown traffic, and ultimately more people spending money downtown.

And, of course, we shouldn’t forget about the nice side effect of all of this, a town having a lot of fun!

Andrew Zwicker is a candidate for Rossland City Council.

Categories: GeneralOp/Ed

Other News Stories