A Church Street Dispatch by George Allan Tucker
Don't 'DUMP' on My Town!
I had a brief and impromptu conversation with a fellow citizen recently, whereupon this person delivered the aspersion that downtown St Marys, “was a dump”! As a 2011 immigrant to Stone Town from Stratford I was dumbstruck to hear such an accusation. Not knowing the individual and not wanting to offend a fellow citizen - who is entitled to his/her own opinion - I tried to brush off the comment with' “how fortunate we are to have the Riverview Walkway, The Loop and The Grand Trunk Trail with its stunning Sarnia Bridge”.
As I continued my walkabout that morning I was reviewing in my minds eye all the things that attracted my wife and I to move to St Marys in the first place.
Downtown St Marys was one of the main attractions. We have lived in twelve different locations over our 50 years of marriage and - with the possible exception of Stratford - all of our daily needs are within a short walk from our Carriage House. We're the envy of both our citified and country friends.
Getting back to debunking the “Dump” theory, since moving in almost two years ago we have already seen changes taking place in the core area - or to be locally correct, the Central Commercial District (CCD). It is obvious that some property owners have taken advantage of the Town of St Marys Community Improvement Plan - Façade Improvement. Others may yet apply this year for financial assistance under the Designated Heritage Property Grant Program -2013.
In terms of our CCD, it should be understood that businesses are always in transition, especially when the overall economy is in transition. It seems to me that our local economy has faired rather well for itself over the past few turbulent years. Ok, so there are some empty storefronts along Queen and Water Streets. Perhaps they could be temporarily spruced up with some window/wall murals - like the now world famous BC town of Chemainus. (http:www.chemainus.com/arts/murals/index.htm)
The city of St Thomas ON actually hired the artists from Chemainus to decorate their city a few years ago.
We have the incredible 'St Marys Art Salon' group in our community. Perhaps they could be persuaded to consider this idea as a future project? Cooperation, collaboration and flexibility between property owners, town officials and the Arts community would be essential in such matters. Considering the amazing history of our town there should be no shortage of stories to be related. Case in point, take a minute to notice the number of folks who pause at the Queen St. Gallery window displaying Mark Czajkowski's latest streetscape.
In the meanwhile, I look at an idle store in the CCD as a golden opportunity just waiting for the right entrepreneur to come along to 'Magnetize' the place! (Reference: The Magna Man- Stewart Books St Marys). I would encourage individual property owners holding vacant commercial space to forget about those “Vacant Space Rebates”. Demonstrate your community pride by negotiating the fairest possible terms and conditions with potential entrepreneurs. Unrealistic rents are already driving small businesses out of Stratford's' core. One of our other CCD 'WOW' factors is the absence of those hideous parking meters.
May I be so bold to suggest - and with the humility of 'someone from away' - that if you have not taken a walk around the CCD lately and dropped into the stores and services outlets to introduce yourself, I am convinced that it would be an uplifting experience for the operators.