Skip to content

St. Albert downtown needs love, businesses say

More events, diverse businesses, and increased parking would revitalize Perron District
A foggy March morning in downtown St. Albert.

Many downtown businesses say the city’s core is overdue for an overhaul.

A new downtown business association got the go-ahead from city council last week. The association promises to use its $50,000 budget to beautify Perron District with new lights, a new seating area and more garbage cans. It will also spend some of the money to market the core.

Businesses that spoke with the Gazette were largely happy about the new Downtown Business Association, but most agreed getting more people excited to visit the core will take a lot of work.

Esra Ziya, owner of Turkish Coffee House on Perron Street, thinks the downtown needs more than just beautification to draw crowds.

“We need to find something like activities, like more fun as a family,” she said.

Turkish Coffee House has been open for over five years, but Ziya is still suffering because of low foot traffic and higher costs driven by inflation.

Downtown needs to be a year-round destination, not just somewhere people visit for a handful of events in the summer and around Christmas, Ziya said.

“There's quite a few seniors out here, and I have lots of senior customers,” she said. “We need to show them our support, because there's so many of them. They don't even have a family to visit them … So we have to show them they mean a lot to the community.”

Cyn Punter, owner of wedding dress store Lustre Bridal, thinks downtown needs more diverse businesses.

“There’s still a lot of empty buildings,” Punter said. “A lot of people don't know that we even exist down here.”

She hopes downtown attracts more boutique stores, and while she’s happy to see an exciting new crop of restaurants have opened recently, the area could still use more variety.

She pointed to Saskatoon’s Broadway Avenue, somewhere she used to visit regularly when she lived in the city.

“They have such unique shops … a lot of different restaurants and cute little bistros and coffee shops,” she said. “We need more of that down here.”

More parking topped the list for Angela Chatwin, owner of The Bookstore on Perron Street.

“It’s the main complaint I hear from my customers,” Chatwin said. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, we finally made it in here because there was a parking spot.’”

Since opening the store, Chatwin has seen multiple groups aimed at downtown revitalization come and go, finding only occasional success.  However, she’s excited that the Downtown Business Association has the backing of the city.

“It's nice to see new blood and new ideas,” she said.

Running a business downtown has been great for Ashley Elsbett, owner of Dynamite Vape and Smoke on Perron Street.

Her one complaint? Someone keeps rifling through the store’s garbage, and the culprits leave a mess in their search for electronic cigarette parts.

“So I would love to see some more garbage cans or something like that, especially in the parking area,” she said.  “Other than that, I don’t have any complaints. Everything has been great.”

Building a better downtown

The key to energizing a downtown core is simply having lots of stuff to do there, says Dr. Michael Burayidi, a professor of urban planning at Ball State University who specializes in downtown redevelopment.

“Give people a reason to come downtown,” he said.

The reason could be any type of event: a concert, a pop-up market, a scavenger hunt. The possibilities are endless.

But the events need to happen often  — “as many as possible,” Burayidi said  — for a downtown to see more foot traffic and for businesses to gain customers.  

Events are also the cheapest way a city can increase downtown vibrancy.  

Burayidi refers to aesthetic measures such as building façade improvements, park additions and streetscape beautification as the “second phase” of downtown redevelopment. It’s the “second phase” because it costs more.

“Unless you really have the money, it may not be the wisest way to start the downtown revitalization,” he said.

Downtowns are the “living room” of cities, Burayidi said. They’re the place where citizens come together to celebrate, to do the business of community building and even sometimes to mourn.

Downtowns also drive economic development. Businesses judge a city’s downtown, and an appealing downtown can be the deciding factor for whether a business sets up shop, he said.

“When you maintain healthy downtown, you're also maintaining the history of the community, the heritage of the community,” he said. “And that's why it's so important to the health of every city.”

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks