Written by Sylvie Grenier.
Photo by Michelle Ramsay-Borg
Periodically, the media covers the deterioration of the ByWard Market and bemoans the loss of food suppliers and retail stores in Canada’s oldest continuously operating farmer’s market. A 2013 consultant’s report identified the proliferation of bars and restaurants as the most important factor in the decline of our Market.
Every year, bars and restaurants take over small retail spaces because they can pay higher rents. Over the last year, The Market has lost two art galleries and six small retail stores to restaurants and bars that brought 1,138 new licensed seats.
disruptive behaviour associated with these businesses. Together with the loss of small retail stores and services that used to make the Market a unique destination, this has a negative impact on the attractiveness of the area as a place to live and to visit.
Can the ByWard Market become again the best destination for specialized food produce and unique retail stores in Ottawa?
The City has all the power it needs to make The Market the best destination for specialized food produce and a variety of unique retail stores.
It can repurpose the city-owned Market building from its current food court function to its true purpose, a year-round market for the best available food products in the city, a function it once had. The Market cannot compete with food chains and commercial malls, but it can provide unique, high quality products. There is a strong and growing market for high quality food to support this concept, and residents should be able to buy their vegetables and groceries where they live.
The same principle can be applied to all retailing in the Market. Small, unique and diversified retailing could be encouraged to make the Market the most interesting place to live and visit.
For example, the zoning by-law protects the traditional small retail stores along William Street by restricting the maximum frontage width to 6 metres on the ground floor. Unfortunately, the city too easily grants minor variances to permit a bigger frontage, as it did this summer by allowing the conversion of two small retail spaces into one larger space. The city could also ensure that new buildings in the Market area contain only small retail frontages, to encourage a diversity of small and unique stores.
On bars and restaurants, the city can do several things. For one, it could apply the current by-laws on separation distances between bars. At the moment, it is easy to open a restaurant and turn it into a bar at 11 pm because the city does not enforce the separation distances between bars as required by the by-law. The city could also limit the increasing number and size of private licensed patios on city property, many of which leave very little space for pedestrians. It could also stop approving rooftop patios, which are currently illegal and interfere with the quality of life of adjacent residents. Finally, the city could work with other cities, such as Toronto, to ask the Province to amend the Ontario Liquor License Act to introduce the density of licensed seats in an area as criteria for granting new liquor licences. This would help limit the addition of new licensed seats in this overly saturated area.
Ottawa is lucky to still have a market in its original heritage downtown setting. It represents a rich city resource that requires investment and special care. The city is scheduled to table recommendations in the next few weeks to help revitalize the Market. We hope that these recommendations will restore the ByWard Market as the best destination for specialized food produce and unique retail stores.
Reprinted from The Lowertown Echo, April-May 2015, Volume 6, Issue 2