Love where you shop.
That’s the branding employed by the St. Thomas Downtown Development Board as they promote shopping in the city’s historic core area along Talbot Street.
Although in this exceptional year, the downtown merchants have faced a double whammy: shuttering for several months due to the coronavirus and having to contend with the homeless who wander Talbot Street and frequent the back lanes.
Although they are now open again, for the most part, many shoppers are leery to venture downtown citing the less than inviting atmosphere.
It was not your typical venue in which Mayor Joe Preston was able to meet with constituents.
Thursday morning’s face-to-face with frustrated downtown merchants played out along a back alley that every morning is littered with discarded drug paraphernalia and other detritus of the downtrodden.
It’s a habitat for the homeless and those with mental health issues who utilize back doorsteps and alcoves as personal relief stations.
Hidden from passersby on Talbot Street, it’s where staff often find the less fortunate huddled, unconscious or attempting to harm themselves.
It was against this desperate backdrop that a dozen or so core merchants – already pummelled financially by the pandemic – pleaded with Preston to return this stretch of the downtown corridor to a more inviting destination for shoppers.
It was a sign of what lies ahead for city staff in St. Thomas. An overview of the proposed 2017 advertising sign bylaw ran into stiff opposition at this week’s reference committee meeting. Amendments to the existing bylaw to deal with portable signs in the downtown core faced vocal opposition from more than two dozen small businesses and area sign companies. The bylaw would prohibit portable advertising signs in the downtown business area and limit them to one per commercial lot outside the core and three per industrial lot. A-board signs would still be permitted but would have to come in off the sidewalk at the end of the day. It’s a restriction similar to what’s in place in London and Sarnia.