Argyle Street tea shop owner issues plea for help to stay afloat
World Tea House says sales have been down 50% because of downtown construction
The frustrated owner of a small business negatively impacted by construction in downtown Halifax has taken to social media in a bid to drum up business and help save his shop.
On Tuesday morning, World Tea House owner Philip Holmans posted a photo on Facebook and Twitter of the closed street, torn up and littered with construction vehicles, outside his storefront.
"Week 6 out of 17-20... PLEASE help us survive and come in for tea, sales down 50% and we are already struggling to stay open. Help," he wrote.
His plea had garnered more than 260 retweets, and some 1,200 shares on Facebook, by 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
The construction work is for a streetscaping project the city is touting as a way to "transform sections of Argyle and Grafton streets and contribute to a more people-focused, vibrant downtown."
The plan is to lower the sidewalks to street level and to put in paving stones to distinguish the sidewalk from the street. The work started in June and is expected to finish in late September.
Holmans said in an interview on Wednesday afternoon that sales were already down about 35 per cent thanks to construction on the nearby Nova Centre complex, but the streetscaping work has compounded the problem.
Holmans has had to let one member of his small staff go and has cut the hours for his remaining workers. He also plans to forego paying himself a wage this summer to help reduce his operating costs, but that might not be enough.
"There's only so many places you can cut," he said. "With all this downtown construction, the city is putting a lot of negatives out there for people to come downtown and not a lot of positives," he said.
Holmans said he supports the project and is looking forward to having more foot traffic passing by his shop once the 17 weeks of road closures are over with — if he can hold out that long.
'It's a tough thing,' says mayor
Mayor Mike Savage said he hopes customers will support the shop until the streetscaping is complete.
"It's a tough thing, but the whole purpose of this is to help business and to drive business in the downtown," said Savage. "We're going to try to minimize the damage and we recognize that it's tough in a growing city when work gets done.
"Council has undertaken a process to look at mitigation when we have construction. We need to be sensitive to the needs of small business in particular," he said.
Regional council voted last summer to approve changes to a number of bylaws in the hopes of mitigating some of the headaches from construction on businesses and residents.
Threats of legal action
However, several businesses have threatened legal action due to lost revenue as a result of ongoing construction in that part of the downtown.
The owner of Argyle Street stalwart Economy Shoe Shop announced in March that he was selling due to problems related to construction of the Nova Centre, as well as the streetscaping. He claimed those projects had cost him "a couple of million dollars."
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Holmans said enough hasn't been done to help small business owners weather the disruptions. He said a number of his neighbours have already had to close down or relocate elsewhere.
"I'm all for Halifax growing. I just don't think the city has planned for it with the consideration of small businesses in mind," he said.
"They tend to focus on the bigger money and the small guys just kind of fall between the cracks."
On Wednesday afternoon, Holmans said business had been unusually brisk as customers responded to his call for help.