ByWard Market businesses say safety should be priority for new district authority

ByWard Market

As the new ByWard Market District Authority prepares to launch next spring, businesses in the area are hoping to see safety made a top priority. 

Phil Emond, gallery director of Gordon Harrison Canadian Landscape Gallery on Sussex Drive, said the area is currently grappling with an uptick in break-ins, including six separate incidents in the last week alone. 

It’s a trend that he said has been on the rise for the past several years and one that he feels hasn’t been taken seriously enough.

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“People are feeling unsafe and nothing is being done,” he said. “Everyone is noticing that it’s not safe right now; we’re being told by clients. Every day we come in and we wonder which business it is this morning. We’re all very, very frustrated.”

In 2022, Rideau-Vanier Ward, where the ByWard Market is located, had the second-highest crime rate in the city according to police. 

Emond said businesses have felt the effects. “We’re all concerned about that,” he said. “We’re coming out of COVID and we’re trying to catch our breath. And now we’re being attacked without help at all.”

The existing ByWard Market BIA and Ottawa Markets are currently being dissolved and replaced by the ByWard Market District Authority. 

The new group is in the early stages of planning, executive director Zachary Dayler told OBJ last month. The current “start-up phase,” he said, includes efforts to recruit board members and build a new business advisory committee.

While those plans are taking shape, business owners like Chantal Biro echo Emond’s desire for safety to be made a top priority. 

“Our main concern is the security of our staff, ourselves and our customers,” said Biro, who owns Schad, a women’s fashion boutique on Sussex Drive. 

Biro’s boutique has been broken into twice in the last month, she said, including one daytime robbery. 

“He’d come in earlier (that day) while I wasn’t there,” she said. “He was just scoping and we’re getting a lot of that. Then he just ran in. Now we have to close the door, which is less inviting. Most people are understanding, but these guys are bold. They don’t care about cameras.”

Both Biro and Emond suggest increased police patrols, especially at night, could address some concerns. Biro also said she supports initiatives that bring in mental health support workers. 

But she acknowledges that, with so many ongoing crises, there’s no simple solution. 

“It’s heartbreaking to see,” she said. “I think people are becoming desperate. Even at my local grocery store, people are stealing food and they’re getting caught. So of course we’re going to be affected, but I think there’s no easy solution. The opioid crisis is out of control and cops are overwhelmed.”

Business owner Pat Nicastro said he’d like to see the new district authority engage with businesses to ensure their needs and concerns are being addressed. 

“My hope is that they really do include businesses as much as possible, that they do get a strong business voice,” said Nicastro, who owns La Bottega Nicastro on George Street. “The vision of politicians that aren’t invested in the area every day is not always the same as what really happens. So I hope we have a strong voice moving forward and that we’re included in decisions and discussions.”

He added that he’d like to see a diverse mix of businesses on the committee to ensure the needs of all types of businesses are considered. 

“There’s always a bit of a clash (between retailers and restaurants) about what the vision should be,” he said. “But I truly believe that you have to have a strong mix. Daytime businesses have different needs from restaurants and bars. We need to make sure their needs are considered because they’re an important part of this area.”

As a former member of the ByWard Market BIA, Nicastro isn’t eligible to be part of the new district authority’s board. However, he said that clear communication and collaboration with area businesses will be vital to the new group’s success. 

“It’s hard,” he said. “Sometimes businesses are in the dark about what’s going on and it’s been hard to communicate with different levels of government. We’re going through some transitions down here in the Market, so it’s important that they communicate, that there’s more meetings. They have to be present at events.”

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