Small K-W shops battle LRT construction

Photo by Will Huang

Photo by Will Huang

Local businesses in Kitchener-Waterloo are finding new ways to attract customers amid ION light rail transit construction in the region.

Honey Bakeshop and Words Worth Books, located in uptown Waterloo, opened their back doors on Hughes Lane on July 24 with the goal of increasing foot traffic despite nearby construction-related road closures.

David Worsley, co-owner of Words Worth Books, said fellow co-owner and member of the Uptown Waterloo Business Improvement Area, Mandy Grouse, developed the idea.

Guests at the event, titled “Summer Party in Our Backyard” had the opportunity to browse an outdoor book market and enjoy lunch or dessert in the comfort of the renovated back alley of the two businesses.

The alley was also home to children’s activities, workshops and live music on the weekends. The event, which was scheduled to run from July 24 to August 8, was extended until August 22 due to the success of the first two weeks.

“I would love to do it permanently,” said Worsley. “It’s just a question of logistics, whether we can keep it going.” The event was part of a larger initiative to combat the effects  frequent road closures are having on local businesses, as customers are finding it increasingly hard to access these smaller stores.

“The back alley will always be viable no matter what happens out front. That’s the hook. No matter what happens out front, whether there’s a bulldozer every eight feet, people can get in through that back alley,” Worsley said.

With more roads set to close in the coming months, Worsley said that every business in the area is feeling the pressure to find creative ways to bring customers in.

“You hear it anecdotally from businesses, everybody’s heard by now about Central [Fresh Market] and what they have to deal with. They’ve said, ‘We lost 30 per cent  right away,’ ” Worsley said.

Central, located on the stretch of King St. between Union and Victoria, which was one of the first sections closed for construction, has resorted to putting up signs around town directing customers to their store. Other side road stores are also dealing with detours with signs saying they are still open and which roads to take to get to their locations.

In regards to his own business, Worsley believes the hard part is still to come, but initiatives like the Summer Party will help to keep business steady during the coming months.

“We will be fine with enough small ideas,” he said.

On top of plans to continue using the Hughes Lane, Worsley mentioned talks of collaborating with Sabletine Fine Pastries and members of the Uptown Waterloo Business Improvement Area to plan more events and promote the idea of supporting local businesses during ION construction.

Worsley added the importance of continuously utilizing these small businesses especially during this time. “It’s not enough to like your little bakery, or your little hairdresser or your little bookstore. You have to actually use them,” he said. “It would be a profound shame if [the LRT] debuted in front of a bunch of boarded up businesses.”

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