Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Open Letter – COVID-19: Economic Recovery On The Precipice

Letter to the Editor


Meaford is a tourist destination. People, and especially young families, perhaps with grandparents in tow, love to come here to enjoy our parks, splash pad, waterfront, and outdoor recreational facilities. Where else can people boast of anything close to Memorial Park, within a short walk of our downtown core and complete with a dog beach? Increasingly, Meaford also appeals to the slightly older, less active crowd. We have a wonderful selection of restaurants, retail shops, Meaford Hall, a new art gallery, and a host of B&Bs. Although tourists may come for one or more of these venues and attractions, while here they also spend money on convenience items, gasoline, groceries, and all the things they forgot to load into the car before heading out.

COVID-19 has placed the future of many businesses that rely on the tourist trade at serious risk. Now that some restrictions are easing, those businesses have a short, perhaps ephemeral, opportunity to get back on their financial feet and make the money they will need to get through next winter.

In support of this, the Meaford Chamber of Commerce has been working extremely hard for a number of months with municipal staff and the BIA to find ways to assist our businesses to recover. In addition to some of the more mundane action items such as sourcing PPE, in discussions with our eateries we have championed bump out patios for our restaurants and cafés and fleshed out a plan to turn a part of the Market Square into a viable social gathering place – within restrictions. Working with the BIA and Business Recovery Committee, that plan would create restaurant overflow seating and a place for visitors to simply sit and relax. We are also working with Victoria Yeh and Chris Scerri to feature dispersed, one- and two-person acts and entertainers, performers and buskers at various locations throughout the summer, anchored in the Market Square.

But tourists will not come if there are no high quality, AODA compliant toilet facilities on site. Entertainers will not come. People require toilets throughout the day. It is a biological reality. For the incontinent, the elderly, young families seeking a clean place to change diapers, those needing a private place to administer insulin, and those with an array of medical conditions, they will not go where there is no ready access to clean toilets. Effectively every regional, national, and major international news outlet has been publishing articles about this issue for the past few weeks. It is well studied, documented, and no secret.

Few urban centres have such toilets. Instead, in the absence of government action, businesses have historically provided toilets to the public, even to non-paying guests. With COVID -related restaurant seating limitations and additional washroom cleaning requirements now in place, businesses are for the first time not providing this essential service. Fortunately, unlike our neighbours, Meaford has an excellent suite of permanent washrooms, including those in Meaford Hall, at the Splash Pad, the harbour, and Memorial Park. This gives us a distinct competitive advantage over our neighbours, with the promise of enticing even more tourists – and tourist dollars – to Meaford. Indeed, other municipalities in Canada with similar facilities are making those washrooms a centre piece of their summer tourism marketing strategy (Come where you can Go, Go where you can Go, etc.)

Sadly, the Municipality of Meaford has indicated that there is no plan to open these excellent facilities, stating that the cleaning bill would be too expensive. Instead, at some locations, but not in the BIA, portable toilets of some description will be brought in because, locally, we have decided that such toilets can be cleaned less frequently. They will certainly be used less. They are cramped, unattractive, can certainly be unpleasant in hot summer days, and strike dread in the hearts of most Canadians. Meanwhile, neighbouring towns and municipalities have seen the writing on the wall and are committing significant sums of money to bring in portable toilets, contract cleaning staff, and even hire wandering ambassadors to interact with the tourists, ensuring that tourists visit and stay. The Meaford Farmers’ Market is a perfect case study. Even in its current limited configuration, it would not be operating now had the Meaford Chamber of Commerce not given them a key to our building; the vendors need access to toilets, and there are none open. Without toilets, there can be no market.

Extensive and consistent research now shows that the risk of surface spread of COVID-19 is very low and the recommendation is for washroom facilities to be cleaned twice daily. From a cost perspective, that would only mean one additional cleaning daily. This is an offset, not an additional cost as the portable toilets would also have to be cleaned. We are now in Stage 2 of the reopening process in Ontario and recommend that the Meaford Hall Main Floor be reopened, not just for the convenience of washrooms, but to facilitate local tourism efforts. The Chamber will be staffing the Apple again this summer for that very purpose and we need all hands on deck to promote the Municipality of Meaford.

If we do not reopen our existing permanent toilet facilities, and soon, the summer months will be upon us and the tourists will not come. They will choose not to. Those that do come will stay only briefly and not explore all that we have to offer, and we will not be able to bring the downtown core alive. As a result, more businesses will fail.

Meaford is fortunate. We have what every other urban centre wishes they had, yet we are seeing only cost, not opportunity. Although absolutely not sexy, there can be no effective economic recovery in Meaford without the Municipality opening our existing public washrooms. The Meaford Chamber of Commerce strongly encourages you to reconsider your position on this issue.

Scott Gooch

President, Meaford Chamber of Commerce

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