Sunday, April 21, 2024

Sidewalk Patios a Great Idea, But Benefits Need to be Seen Beyond Downtown

By Stephen Vance, Editor

Council’s approval of a pilot project that will allow licenced sidewalk patios in the downtown core could be a giant step forward for all businesses in the municipality.

One of the comments often heard about Meaford is that it is a ‘drive-through town’, with little to catch the attention of a passing motorist, not enough to prompt them to park the car and explore.

Those of us who live here know and understand what a wonderful place it is with a beautiful waterfront, fantastic trails, charming shops, and a vibrant, engaged community, but to an outsider driving through town, Meaford seems pretty much like many other small towns.

Add a couple of sidewalk patios, and on a warm summer day a few of those ‘drive-through’ motorists might stop for some lunch and a cold beverage. While they’re out of their car, they might even be tempted to explore Meaford a little, and perhaps even spend a little extra cash. Even better, the experience might draw them back for a return trip.

Even a local like me, who doesn’t often visit a restaurant or drinking establishment more than a couple of times per year would enjoy a cold beverage on a sidewalk patio while reading a book, or chatting with a friend.

We’ve all seen these kinds of outdoor patios. In large cities like Toronto, Ottawa, and Barrie sidewalk patios have become commonplace, and most likely for good reason – they are money-makers. But it isn’t just big cities that have cottoned on to the sidewalk patio trend. Collingwood, Bracebridge, and Huntsville are among the smaller towns that have embraced the concept, and given Meaford’s reliance on tourism to support our retail stores and restaurants, some colourful umbrellas shading tables filled with people enjoying a meal and a beverage would be a wise addition.

There will no doubt be some concerns raised, and those concerns should be recognized by council and any potential issues should be addressed, but whether there are opponents to the idea or not, the fact is that it is a tried and true concept that works elsewhere, and would also work in Meaford. Facts and reality though aren’t always enough to mollify the NIMBY folks, but I hope that there is minimal opposition to this initiative, as it truly could be that piece of the puzzle that has been missing in order to increase business for our downtown shops and restaurants, and perhaps even to attract new businesses to town – and we all know how badly Meaford could use some new places of employment.

For it to really work though, the result must extend beyond just a stop at a restaurant for a meal on the patio – this initiative should be used to increase business throughout the municipality, and so I humbly offer one suggestion: as part of the agreement with the restaurants, the municipality could provide placemats and/or information cards for the tables at those sidewalk patios which provide listings of things to do, places to see, places to shop, and so on. There could even be a walking tour map included, or a driving tour for the rural areas. If Meaford is going to embrace sidewalk patios, the municipality should attempt to spread the benefits as far from the downtown core as possible.

Imagine if visitors to Meaford stopped for a beer and a meal on the patio of the Leeky Canoe, and then discovered points of interest like Leith Church, or the Bognor Marsh, or the candle factory – you likely won’t discover those places by simply driving through, but if we could only get some of those drive-through folks to stop.

Sidewalk patios are a fantastic idea, let’s just hope that council and staff maintain a focus on using the concept to bolster all areas of the municipality.

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