The Main Street Town Square served to change up the usual environment at the end of Whitehorse’s Main Street but some locals who used the area as part of their businesses over the summer were left with complaints about its organization and location.
The town square was a pilot program that saw the block of Main Street between 2nd Avenue and Front Street closed to vehicle traffic. The cars were replaced with seating, yard games, live music and local vendors selling their wares.
The road closure began on June 16 allowing businesses in the area time to construct extended patio space ahead of the June 23 opening of the town square. It ran through Sept. 5. A colourful mural reminiscent of the Aurora Borealis was painted right on the surface of Main Street in the closed area.
A total of 17 vendors set up stalls at the town square over the course of the summer. Among them were purveyors of locally-made dog treats, woodworking, crocheted goods and more. The Safe at Home Society had a presence during the town square. City representative Oshea Jephson told the News that feedback the city received from Safe at Home indicated that its presence in the area was helpful in serving clients they have challenges reaching in other ways such as those without cell phones.
Also on the outdoor vendor list was the Mini Makerspace that operates its store in the adjacent Horwoods Mall.
Alannah Pumphrey, the owner of the Mini Makerspace, says she witnessed disorganization leading up to the road being closed for the town square and while the bi-weekly outdoor vendor markets were running.
Pumphrey said not all of the businesses in Horwoods were made aware of the plans for the closure of Main Street or consulted about possible impacts. She said she was left off an email thread meant for the exchange of information between “stakeholders” and the city until late in the summer.
She heard that other businesses in the mall experienced poor sales even when compared to recent years when tourism has been slower. Pumphrey suggested the possibility that it was a “perceived lack of parking” that kept some customers away. She said there was pushback on this idea from the city who conducted parking surveys they told her indicated not much parking was actually lost.
Pumphrey said it was unclear to businesses in the area when the street closure would actually begin.
Pumphrey also heard concerns about accessibility created by the closure of the portion of Main Street with accessible parking spaces near banks taken out of service among other issues. She said she was met with an overall dismissive attitude but some efforts were made to find solutions.
The sentiment from other vendors reached by the News was not opposed to another open-air space to sell their wares but some wanted fine tuning of the town square’s location or felt that it didn’t live up to other venues like the weekly Fireweed Market.
Town square Vendors were on site Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Angelune Drouin, who runs Nomadic Harvests, a small apothecary and fermentary with Jalfred Deichsel expressed support for the town square space but hopes for better organization next year. Drouin said there were not many people in the area and sales were low the day Nomadic Harvests set up its booth.
Drouin told the News that Nomadic Harvests is reliant on outdoor markets to sell its wares and said she has been a member of the Fireweed Market Society for five years. She compared the town square unfavourably to the Fireweed Market and noted there was a lack of city staff and so she fielded questions about the road closure and the lack of parking.
Pumphrey also had an outdoor booth for the makerspace set up and took issue with the situation faced by fellow outdoor vendors as well. She said that on the opening day of the market, it was not made clear to her where she was supposed to set up her tent on the closed part of Main Street.
She said city staff presence in the area was not consistent and she found herself fielding questions about the market from other vendors and the public without having all the answers. She said she also helped out by storing signage, yard games and other items in her shop without compensation and also helped set up a City of Whitehorse tent at the start of the market days.
Throughout the days Pumphrey had the tent set up as an outdoor vendor, she said there weren’t many people visiting her booth or in the area. She said she experienced sexual harassment while operating the Mini Makerspace tent and feels the perpetrator was emboldened by the lack of people around.
Pumphrey cited relationships with other vendors as one positive aspect of participating in the town square.
Once she finally had been added to the stakeholder email thread, Pumphrey said she saw communication in which street vendors said they were withdrawing from the rest of the market citing conflict with businesses in Horwoods Mall. She said some business owners in the mall reached out to the street vendors making it clear that their problem was with the street closure not with the vendors who were using it.
Along with the other kinds of vendors six food trucks got to take turns setting up in the town square location: Chip Inn, Smashed YXY, Ahzong Noodles, Streets of Kerala, Bannock Slap and Koko’s Bakin’.
Korrel Ronaghan, the operator of Koko’s Bakin’, recently moved her bake shop from a tent to a cargo trailer and said she found the Main Street Town Square a great place to showcase her baking to new customers overall. She found this important as she moved from the tent to the trailer in mid-August and doesn’t have decals fitted to it yet.
Ronaghan also sells at the Fireweed Market and found business on Main Street slow by comparison but noted how established the Thursday market at Shipyards Park is. She also found the Main Street location “kind of dry,” and found traffic noise from 2nd Avenue annoying when the live music wasn’t playing.
Drouin, Ronaghan and Pumphrey all suggested that Front Street might be a better location for a future town square than Main Street.
Following the conclusion of the Main Street Town Square this past week, the city is pledging to gather information for a review that will guide future events like this. Jephson told the News that a survey for the public would be launched in a few days and an in-person survey with adjacent businesses would follow. The survey results will be paired with economic data for a report that will be presented to city council.
“Once the survey launches, we encourage people throughout the city to share their feedback so that we can properly reflect people’s thoughts about the project and make future improvements and by participating, residents are helping shape the vibrant and engaging community they want to see,” Jephson wrote in a Sept. 7 email to the News.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org