Al Fresco – A Community Success Story
The Board of Directors, Kelsey and myself want to thank each one of you for your participation in the success of Al Fresco this summer. Whether you were a restaurant that invested in making your outdoor space attractive, a retailer who put in longer hours or created on street presence to accommodate our evening events, a participant or an ambassador in the events, we could not have done it without your participation! And of course – our volunteers!
Al Fresco has been a resounding success in the eyes of our community bringing record numbers of pedestrians to the downtown core. Our social media channels have been a beehive of positive comments and accolades. The local media posted 18 full length articles about the Downtown District over the course of six weeks and we have have had an increase in provincial media attention in social media and direct email, extending our reach immeasurably.
Those are all measurables that don’t lie – but then there is the intangible. There is an unquestionable happy, vibrant vibe on the street. A feeling of safety and community. People outside of our community are talking positively about the downtown. New faces – old ones too that had given up on the core, but are coming back and having positive experiences.
We are seeing a marked increase in tourism from Toronto, Kingston and Quebec – particularly on the weekends. Traditionally summer weekends can be slow in a downtown that is focused on business, but this year we saw record Saturdays and an increase in Sunday traffic – even though not much is open on a Sunday.
We have said goodbye to 9 businesses in 2020 – some because of COVID, some retired, and others had other reasons. But we have gained 7 new businesses, 3 new food trucks and 5 more businesses are scheduled to open this fall. Property owners are working to complete renovations, investors are purchasing some of our older buildings and new businesses and spaces are getting set for a great future in the Downtown District.
All of that said, we also had a lot of struggles as we all tried to figure our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses struggled to stay afloat and are working hard to try to recover. There are staffing challenges across the retail and restaurant sector that have been compounded by the extension of CERB. The B2B industry had to think quickly as many lost dependable revenue streams due to COVID-19 squeezing their client’s wallets.
Our Strategic Plan purpose was identified a year ago:
“The Belleville Downtown District BIA exists to position downtown Belleville as a vibrant community.’
When that was laid before us, if I am truthful, I personally thought we had a long way to go before we could truly embrace this as our identity. But last Friday night and Saturday morning, with our patios bustling, our retailers open, music filling the air, a stunning art installation filling the pedestrian promenade, artisan vendors welcomed into our community – it was an epitome of what a vibrant community is. The streets were full of people mingling, chatting (with masks or lots of distance mind you), laughing, shopping eating, drinking. Every generation was represented – young families, mature families visiting with friends, the elderly, couples, teens, pooches.
We did this together. We have begun to create a vibrant community in the Downtown District that others want to be a part of. Thank you so much to those that trusted us in trying times and who helped to make this summer a huge success.