By Brad Hodge
Published: Nov. 17, 2012
We often hear the pitch for downtown Squamish: we need a gateway sign! We need more density! More aesthetic improvements!
Don’t get me wrong. Out of townies are great sources of external revenue. But the reality is they come mostly according to the season, and there is a lot of down season.
If we want downtown to truly thrive, and by extension attract visitors, we have to convince ourselves that the place is worth visiting.
That won’t happen when it all goes dark after 4 p.m., and the long line of empty commercial storefronts tells the tale of how much activity has gone, or shifted further up the highway.
I’ve heard some argue that in a small town like ours, we can hardly expect to generate enough activity to keep things buzzing day in and day out and into evenings. Nonsense! And I have proof, it’s called Tantalus Alley.
Tantalus Alley is the block of commercial spaces behind Extra Foods. You’ve doubtless been there at least once: for fish and chips, sushi, or any number of other options. And the place is busy, every night. Good luck finding a parking stall after 5, on a Tuesday.
Most of us live up in the north, so it’s conveniently located, although it’s not so convenient in aspects like parking. But I know for a fact it draws people from the south, and it draws visitors. Why?
Its success can be attributed to its reasonable commercial rents. That was probably due to its rather awkward location: Behind a grocery store. Years ago it wasn’t much to remark about – only recently was the street fixed up.
But I think the core of landlords there, keen on keeping their spaces filled, were able to attract a core of really great food establishments (which are sensitive to overhead).
After you had a couple, others wanted to be there too, and it sort of took on a life of its own as a place Squamish residents retire to relax, enjoy good food and the company of friends.
This creates a ‘buzz’ that attracts others to the area. Buzz is what downtown needs.
I think the trick with downtown is somehow getting more quality food establishments there. Food and culture are tied together, and downtown’s success depends on its ability to establish itself as the cultural center of Squamish.
If I were a cheeky Council, I would look for ways to make an explicit pitch to T.A. residents that the place they really want to be is downtown.
I would do that with tax relief, aesthetic improvements, and a bit of a lean on landlords who are sitting on empty space. And of course I would improve transit, to make sure it’s hitting that area at all hours and on Sundays.
Once we get our own residents to visit downtown regularly, I believe it will attract visitors all on its own.