Retail reaction to the Holiday market mixed; some see a great opportunity others still in the dark

By Ryan O’Dowd: Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

November 23rd, 2021

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Interviews with downtown Burlington business owners as the holiday market approaches suggests there are distinctly different views and some concern over any impact the event will have on downtown core merchants.

Many business owners seemed in the dark about the specifics of the 4-day holiday market running from December 9th to December 12th, either because they didn’t have time to keep up with things (they were too busy struggling to keep the doors open) or resulting from an absence of communication by the Burlington Downtown Business Association(BDBA).

The common response from business owners whether they were enthusiastic or skeptical about the event was that they hoped the event would prove prosperous as the hard times they’d fallen on in the pandemic remained.

Many were optimistic the market would increase traffic in the downtown core, others concerned about facing direct competition.

Joelle’s store front – one of the stronger retail operations on Brant Street

Joelle Goddard-Cooling, owner of Joelle’s, said busy-ness kept her from participating in BDBA matters.  Joelle said she had spoken to Brian Dean of the BDBA, early in the process but elected to focus on her store.

Joelle Godard Cooling: probably the best retail marketer in the city.

“It would be difficult to participate, to go and haul something over there would be a little tricky,” Joelle said “but hopefully it brings more people downtown.”

Several business owners spoke of the onus being placed on the retailer to set up booths at the market.

Joelle wishes she was more involved with the discussions but the holiday season traffic made it difficult to do so. She suggested if she wanted to know more about the market she could have and there wasn’t an issue with transparency from the BDBA, but acknowledged she would have had to devote time she didn’t have to participate if she wanted input.

“We always want the downtown to flourish, I certainly talked to Brian in the beginning and I felt…” Joelle paused, “I maybe would have commented if I didn’t agree, but I’m not sure if I agree with the market or not. So I have no comment.”

Jason Pepetone, the owner of Centro Garden, found that he too had difficulty keeping up with existing demands as a reason for declining participation in the holiday market.

Pepetone was asked to be a vendor but is dealing with enough staff for day-to-day operations. “I guess it’s a good problem to have,” he said of the demand being placed on his business. In addition to staffing issues, Centro Garden is dealing with supply delays.

Centro Market: one of the more interesting places on Brant Street for the casual shopper.

“We’re not participating in the market. I’ve heard bits and pieces. But we’re dealing with shipments coming in late. I’m in Toronto picking up stuff that’s supposed to be delivered here. We’re dealing with the same supply chain issues as everyone else,” he said.

Pepetone wasn’t concerned about the potential competition and thought the holiday market directing foot traffic could pay dividends for his operation.

“They did something similar years ago in the Village Square, it’s a nice atmosphere. I could see it as competition but that’s never hurt me.”

Shirley, the owner of the Knitter’s Boutique, felt like setting up at the holiday market would have been redundant, her storefront at 431 Pearl Street ( it opened this week) will be right in the thick of the market. The Knitter’s Boutique borders the 402-420 Martha St Parking Lot which is entirely fenced off and under construction, a project Shirley said the city is assuring her will be completed ahead of the December 9th market.

Shirley is looking forward to the project’s completion to assist with traffic outside her location. One day she showed up to find a fence around her store, to her relief the city quickly removed it

“I noticed before they started the construction that the pathway, (the Elgin Promenade) was packed with people. I couldn’t believe the number of people walking! And there was like a gazillion dogs so, in true entrepreneurial fashion Shirley immediately got into knitting dog sweaters and got them in the window. Because it’s just amazing how many dogs there are.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s gonna be huge for businesses and I love the vibe of downtown Burlington. I think there’s a lot of action here and this spot is kind of perfect for it. I’ve told people about the market and they’re spreading the word, it’s going to be so nice because it’s outdoors people can come together and shop without worrying about capacity limits.”

Waves is located in the Village Square – yards away from the Holiday Market location.

Caitlin McGillivray, owner of Waves in the Village, didn’t receive any more than a flyer informing her about the market. Caitlin would have participated in some capacity and is concerned the Village Square will be forgotten about by the marketplace. Caitlin said if someone came around to inquire from BDBA they could have at least contributed something for a gift bag so if people left without checking in to Waves in the Village they would know they were there.

“I’m concerned that we’re gonna have a lot of people down here and they’re not going to be redirected into the Village because a lot of people don’t know the Village exists. So I’m afraid they’re going to go through the parking lot and then they’re just going to go to their car and leave. People should be redirected into this area to help some of the businesses that are in here as well,” said McGillivray.

The Agora Market Place: One of those gems you come across in Burlington. Located in the Village Square

Ali Ucar, owner of the Agora Marketplace, is participating in the holiday market and hopes it will provide a much-needed boost for his business. The John Street gift shop owner opened during the pandemic and was hamstrung introducing his shop to the public by the frequent lockdowns.

Ucar is paying a $50 fee to participate and is responsible for bringing his own tent and table. Ucar has tried marketing and social media and isn’t sure where to go from here, he is hopeful the holiday market spreads awareness.

There is a responsibility burden on the BDBA for the marketplace to infuse the downtown core with an influx of shoppers this holiday season. The event must benefit not only partnering businesses but all local retailers in the downtown core who lacked the time, resources or information to participate.

The Burlington Downtown website says the marketplace aims to revitalize the downtown core just in time for the holiday season. Here’s hoping that goal comes to fruition lest the BDBA receive a few lumps of coal from their clients this holiday season.

The parking lot will be filled with people for four days in December. The Poacher at one end and Dickens at the other.

The Burlington Holiday Market is being run with support from the  Sound of Music and will feature choirs, interactive community art features, and advent-style community displays.

The event kicks off Thursday, December 9th from 4 pm to 10 pm, runs from 11 am to 11 pm on Friday and Saturday, and 11 am to 7 pm on Sunday.

 

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1 comment to Retail reaction to the Holiday market mixed; some see a great opportunity others still in the dark

  • Penny Hersh

    My plan is very simple. I will support the downtown merchants!

    It is so important to have successful downtown merchants, especially with all the intensification slated for our area where commercial space will be small and expensive.

    Without services the area will simply be an area of towers where residents have to leave to get what they need to buy.

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