It started out as a pandemic measure, but the pedestrian-priority corridor on Victoria’s lower Government Street appears to be here for the long haul.
Now, businesses in the area that are already struggling are worried it could cost them their livelihoods.
“We’re hanging on by our fingernails, we need this business to survive,” said Brock Eurchuk, operator of Pacific Ports Mercantile.
The lower Government Street shop owners say the business they need to survive is cruise ship traffic. But they say they’re set to lose a significant portion of it because, with their street now closed to traffic, the city plans to re-reroute cruise ship shuttles.
Instead of the old route along Belleville, past the Inner Harbour and the Empress and its usual stop on Government at Fort, the new shuttle route will take cruise passengers on a longer route along Blanshard Street, stopping higher up on Government near Yates Street.
The red dotted line shows the previous cruise ship shuttle bus route, while the solid green line shows the new route.
“At a point when we’re most vulnerable the city has made a decision without any input by the merchants to move 30 to 40 per cent of our business up the strip and away from us,” Eurchuk said.
“All the Canadiana stores which have been here forever, and again all family-owned businesses, and that support has now been withdrawn from the city and it’s a real slap in the face for all the businesses here,” said Out of Ireland owner Theresa Palmer.
The city says the new shuttle stop will drop passengers within a five-minute walk of many downtown businesses, including those on lower Government.
“We’re proposing to move the stop one block, not 500 metres, not far away. Again, downtown is amazing, lower Government Street is amazing, and cruise ship passengers will find their way to the businesses they choose to find their way to,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.
And Helps says the pedestrian-only zone on lower Government will likely be a major tourist draw in itself.
“You see the very best of Victoria, you see musicians, you see artists, you see people eating and drinking, you see families gathering, that’s what we want people to see.”
But the shop owners don’t believe it. They say with limited time, and often limited mobility, cruise passengers are known not to venture far and now they will have numerous directions to travel in, including many that take them away from lower Government, the Inner Harbour and the Empress Hotel.
“They’re not walking very far, they have a limited time maybe an hour and a half two hours to explore the whole area,” said Palmer.
Two councillors, Stephen Andrew and Geoff Young, have put a motion forward asking council to reconsider, at least for this year.
“We need to make a decision that’s balanced and can help all of the downtown area,” Andrew said.
“This season is either the make or break season we have in front of us, and a suggestion that a cruise ship season might happen is that glimmer of hope that we need,” said David Glowicki who owns seven stores in the area.
Helps says she doesn’t believe the motion to keep the shuttle route the same will pass. While she says she understands the change is causing immense fear for small businesses barely hanging on, she believes once the season starts, and the tourists return, the boom in business will return with it.