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Niagara Falls
Monday, June 17, 2024
COVID-19: NOTL businesses struggle with influx of tourists

Despite signs put up by the town warning there are no public washrooms and a state of emergency has been declared in NOTL, business owners in Old Town are still having trouble with out-of-town visitors.

“We’re just following everything that the town has set out,” Zoom store manager Ben Visser said, “in hopes that we can get fully functional sooner rather than later.”

His store is not making its washrooms available to the public,  Visser said.

“For my own comfort level as the store manager and having to put staff in there to clean them and stuff, I wouldn't want to,” he said.

“I think it's just a safer thing that the town has said no, we're not going to do that. We're going to leave them closed. I think that's a respectable thing to do for the safety of both our staff and the people who are visiting our business.”

Visser said most people are understanding of the closed facilities but he understands some people won’t be happy.

“If you've got to go to the bathroom, you’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

Zoom is only open for bike and product sales and services, not rentals, he said.

“It’s actually been really nice to hear the response from locals who are coming to purchase bikes,” he said.

“They're really excited to see that we're still trying to keep our business as functional as we can, while maintaining safe distances and following all the guidelines.”

The large amount of out-of-town traffic has pushed some businesses to not just change how they operate, but also stay closed on days where they are normally open.

Simon Bentall, owner of The Scottish Loft, said his doors were closed on Sunday, “partly because of the virus and I don’t want to get tourists coming into the store too much.”

“If I had opened Sunday it probably would have been a good day but we’re still getting people coming in asking to use the washrooms,” he said.

“I’ve heard about people peeing on the side of the shops and things like that because they can’t get to any washrooms.”

Bentall said some customers are frustrated about public facilities being closed and they have been vocal about it in his store.

“I’ve gotten some angry customers saying, 'What do you mean I can’t use the washroom? If I buy things, I’m entitled to use a washroom!' And I tell them this is not a public washroom, we don’t have public washrooms,” said Bentall, whose store is offering free local delivery.

Even without the facility shutdowns due to COVID-19, Bentall said the store's washroom is for employees only.

Another issue for the store has been the two 15-minute parking spaces in front on Queen Street.

“A lot of the time one of them is in used or they are both filled, and I’ve seen a couple get out of the car just to take photos with the tulips,” Bentall said. “They didn’t come in the shop.”

As far as whether the town signs are deterring visitors Bentall said the answer is yes and no.

“When the signs came up, people knew and obviously read them because they were looking around really skittley and nervously in front of the car with the engine on,” Bentall said.

“Then beckoning people back into the car because there’s three or four of them taking photos and things like that.”

Bentall said if restrictions are not lifted, he doesn’t think people will be able to come back to town in the summertime.

For Valu-mart owner Tony Hendriks, “Every week, every day is a new challenge.”

“Part of the issue we have is that when there is no street parking it drives people into our parking lot,” he said.

“We're trying to work with the town to monitor our parking lot because our parking is also controlled under the bylaw. We have signs in the parking lot saying restricted limit of time parking while in store only, but a lot of people still ignore those signs. It's difficult for us with limited staffing we have to monitor our parking lot.”

Hendriks said the business relies on the town and bylaw officers to monitor and enforce parking rules.

“No street parking drives people to want to leave their car in a parking lot, and that's a challenge for us,” he said. “We need all the space we have right now for locals to come shop.”

“The bigger issue is people wanting to park somewhere and just walk around town. Not necessarily, you know needing to come in to our store,” Hendriks said.

“It hasn't really been a problem for our customers or our staff, just that they're using our parking lot, illegally.”

Hendriks said Valu-mart and the town have had good discussions back and forth. “Everybody recognizes that it's a problem and everybody is trying to do their part to help solve the problem,” he said.

As far as public washrooms go, Hendriks said his store is just doing the best that it can to follow town orders.

“Our staff basically said there's no facilities in town now, we don't have public facilities ourselves. The town is has put signs up everywhere,” he said.

“We try to explain the town's position, which I guess everybody does.”

Hendriks said everyone is trying to work together on this to “stop the problem from happening in the first place.”


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