St. Stephen – It’s back to business as usual for shops and stores on Milltown Boulevard after a challenging summer and fall last year due to five months of construction work on water and sewer line upgrades.
To celebrate the end of the work, the improved street conditions, and to look forward to increased business activity, the St. Stephen Business Improvement Area (BIA) and local downtown merchants are hosting “Welcome Back To The Boulevard” on May 18.
The event is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the David Alison Ganong Chocolate Park, and will feature a ribbon cutting, free cake, live entertainment, and free balloons for the kids. A barbecue will be held beginning at 11 a.m. with proceeds going to support the playground renovations at the park.
The ribbon cutting ceremony will take place at 12 noon with remarks by BIA president Jeff McShane, and St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern. Details on a joint “Shop Small Business” project by the BIA and the St. Stephen Area Chamber of Commerce will be announced during the celebration.
The date for the celebration was chosen as a lead-in to the town wide yard sale on May 19, explained BIA coordinator Heather Donahue.
Although they are appreciative of the new and improved streetscape as a result of the construction, the work definitely took its toll on the bottom line for many establishments, said business owners Kristan Cloney and Katherine Antworth.
Cloney owns and operates Spree, a shop offering “an eclectic mix of our favourite things”, including clothing, DIY decorating components, baby items, and a new addition of maternity clothing. The store will celebrate its second anniversary this summer.
Antworth is co-owner of Pita Pit, which she described as an eat-in or “grab and go” store focused on healthy eating.
Cloney said hosting this celebration is important for the businesses because while they experienced the hardships of construction “we also get to reap the benefits now that it’s all done and clean and tidy.”
Cloney said she is very grateful “loyal locals” still found a way to get to the store during the construction. She noted her store’s traffic had slowed to a trickle, and tourist traffic became non-existent once vehicles were re-routed while construction took place in front of her store.
Antworth said business partner Rob Mills “spent an awful lot of time pounding the pavement”, and visiting businesses seeking catering customers.
“He was taking our business to customers because we knew we couldn’t rely on customers being able to get to our business.”
Entering their third year of business this month, Antworth said the summer months are a time when Pita Pit would normally pad its bank account to get through the leaner winter months, noting the business, like many others, is heavily dependent on tourist traffic.
“We were at a 50 per cent disadvantage for those summer months. We had to re-strategize our entire winter in order to figure out how to float to get to now. Our numbers are starting to look a lot more how they should look.”
Following the completion of construction, Antworth said the downtown business district had to deal with a “construction hangover.”
“People were so used to taking an alternative route (to avoid construction) it took them a really long time to reprogram their auto pilot to get them back downtown.”
Donahue said the hardship in reduced business trickled down throughout the community and both Cloney and Antworth agreed they had to look hard at what they could support and what they could donate during that time.
Cloney said she and other businesses had to scale back contributions to other BIA and Chamber of Commerce sponsored events and programs.
“We had to get creative to maintain our presence and show the community how much we support it,” said Antworth. “The monetary resource just wasn’t there. “
Cloney said the Welcome Back To The Boulevard is a celebration for all business owners who stuck it out and did what they had to do to keep people coming through the door.
“But it’s also a celebration for the people,” she added, noting businesses like hers were grateful people kept returning to shop despite traffic difficulties.