The occupation is over, but Sparks Street businesses are still feeling the effects

The barricades, fences and police checkpoints designed to keep protesters from returning en masse to downtown Ottawa are also making life difficult for businesses on the pedestrian mall.

Security perimeter posing challenges, say store owners, BIA

Downtown barriers create ‘limited access’ to Sparks Street, worrying business owners

9 months ago
Duration 0:08
Kevin McHale, executive director of the Sparks Street BIA, says police barriers are still deterring pedestrians and snow-clearing equipment from entering the street, leaving business owners worried about a slower recovery.

With the trucks that clogged up much of downtown Ottawa gone, many downtown businesses have returned to some semblance of normal — with one notable exception. 

"It's still a frustration for our members that we're in the security zone," said Kevin McHale, the executive director of the Sparks Street BIA and Mall Authority.

"There's limited access to Sparks Street. You know, you still have to show your ID and proof to get into the space."

Fencing installed during the crackdown on protesters who occupied downtown still limits some of the entrances to the pedestrian street one block south of Parliament Hill.

While customers and employees can get onto Sparks, it's not easy to navigate in and out each day, McHale said.

Most businesses along the street have reopened, but not all.

Security fencing is seen on Sparks Street in downtown Ottawa on Feb. 26, 2022. The local BIA says the security perimeter designed to keep protesters from returning en masse to downtown Ottawa has posed challeges for store owners along the pedestrian mall. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

"There's a lot of things that are closed," said Tony Saber, who works at Albert Opticians.  "The barricades being up [makes it] quite difficult to get around."

Saber said they've been largely unaffected by the lack of walk-ins, as they rely more on appointments. But he also believes they're the exception.

String of disappointments

"I can open the store, but nobody is coming in this case," said Alicja Postolek, who runs À 2 prêt-à-porter, a women's clothing store. "People are still very reluctant."

The barricades are just the latest in a long line of frustrations, she said. 

The pedestrian-only walkway was hit hard by the pandemic, with neighbouring government buildings left empty. Then during the demonstrations, Postolek kept her store closed due to concerns over how she'd get downtown.

She said she hopes the fencing will soon come down, adding she has plans to reopen Monday — although the situation remains in flux, with few guarantees.

"All of us are very anxious to reopen," Postolek said. "But all of us need a lot of help from every level of government."

Police clutch batons as they form a line to block Sparks Street on Feb. 19 as they take action to put an end to the occupation in downtown Ottawa. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

'Still in the middle of it'

McHale said he wants precautions to be taken to ensure protesters don't return in the same manner as before and that security perimeters can be fully lifted.

Even with many COVID-19 restrictions lifted in Ontario in January, Sparks Street hasn't been able to fully rejoin the economy, he said.

Winterlude, Ottawa's annual outdoor festival, had to be moved online due to the rise of the Omicron variant. It's just one more loss many store owners are contending with, he said.

"A lot of life has returned to normal and downtown Ottawa and ByWard and Rideau and such, but we're still kind of in the middle of it," McHale said.

With files from Natalia Goodwin

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