British Columbia

Kelowna closes downtown street to vehicles, opening it up for pedestrians to physically distance

The main drag in Kelowna, B.C., has been closed to vehicle traffic for the summer to help businesses and pedestrians adhere to physical distancing recommendations from B.C.’s provincial health officer. 

Business owner raises concerns about initiative, but visitors love it

Kelowna B.C.'s Bernard Avenue will be closed to vehicle traffic for the summer to allow businesses to use sidewalk space and give pedestrians the space to physically distance. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

The main drag in Kelowna, B.C., has been closed to vehicle traffic for the summer to help businesses and pedestrians adhere to physical distancing recommendations from B.C.'s provincial health officer. 

Bernard Avenue, home to a number of restaurants and retail stores, was closed to cars Monday. 

"I think it's going to liven it up," Downtown Kelowna Association executive director Mark Burley told Daybreak South host Chris Walker. 

"It's already a busy place in the summertime. Now we should have even more local foot traffic."

Visitors to the area, both local and from out of town, liked the change. 

"I appreciate that we have more space to continue to flatten the curve and keep things safe for everyone," Shauna Marshall added. 

Loran Evans said she struggled to find parking initially because she forgot the street would be closed to cars.

"It's a little bit complicated with traffic but I'm sure that they will work out the kinks," she said. 

However, she too likes the street being closed to cars.

"I think that's a really good idea, especially when it gets busy during tourist season."

Though the closure of Bernard Avenue in Kelowna, B.C., to cars is meant to benefit all businesses in the area, one business owner doubts it will work for either of her retail shops. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Farbod Diba, a visitor to Kelowna from Vancouver, said he's enjoyed similar initiatives in the Lower Mainland. 

"I think it's a great opportunity for everyone to gather around as well, as keeping the social distance, as well as helping the local businesses to thrive and get back on track financially," he said.

But not everyone is excited about the change.

Chantal Couture, who owns two retail businesses on Bernard Avenue, said the road closure will primarily benefit restaurants that have struggled to deal with capacity and can now have people more spaced out on patios.

"I feel like they have not represented the retail sector's point of view," Couture said.

"Setting up racks out on the sidewalk doesn't actually solve our capacity problem. No matter what, customers would have to come into the store to use our point of sale terminal." 

She also cited moving delicate merchandise, staffing and loss prevention as reasons that opening up the sidewalk for her businesses just won't work.

But Burley said the initiative is meant to benefit all businesses on the street. 

"It's done for all businesses that they can expand and go out onto the sidewalk," he said. "That gets more people on the street which puts eyeballs on every business downtown."

Even though she is concerned, Couture remains optimistic about the change. She said she should be able to gauge how the closure has impacted her businesses within the first two weeks.

"I've just been closed for two months, so the notion of decreasing [revenue for] our two highest months of the year is super overwhelming. So I'm gonna stay optimistic and say that it's going to be OK."

With files from Brady Strachan and Daybreak South