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“They’re going to go somewhere else”

Business owner fears the worst with upcoming Simcoe construction

With less than a month’s notice before work begins, Julie Streater, the owner and operator of Sinatra’s Hot Italian Sandwiches, says the months-long project on Simcoe Street North could leave her business short on customers and could have serious impacts on her business.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The looming closure of portions of Simcoe Street North are set to affect many residents throughout the city, but one business owner says the impacts could be a lot more than just a slight detour – it could run her out of business.

Julie Streater, the owner and operator of Sinatra’s Hot Italian Sandwiches, is crying foul over the Region of Durham’s notification process, saying she only received word that the thoroughfare would be shut down for months mere weeks before it was set to happen.

Streater says a notice was hand delivered across the counter at her restaurant on March 17, and while she rents the building at 944 Simcoe St. N., she adds her landlord had no idea either.

“My first reaction was anger and shock because…I do employ six people and it’s my husband and I’s livelihood, we’re both employed in the business.”

Now in operation for 12 years, Streater says the eatery has a base of loyal customers, but with Simcoe set to be closed from Rossland Road to Robert Street (just south of her restaurant) for a complete overhaul, she fears the loss of passing traffic is going to hurt her business.

“Everybody knows what it’s like when you come home or are trying to get anywhere and you get caught in a construction honey trap, your first instinct is, ‘OK, I’m making a mental note, I’m not coming this way again,’” she says. “We’re not a doctor’s appointment where you have to get here, and you’re going to plan a route…they’re going to go somewhere else.”

That dip in customers is hard on small family shops, and is sometimes enough to have serious impacts.

“Times are already tough, a 20 or 30 per cent (drop) is enough,” she says.

Now, she’s calling on the region to perhaps create a better system for letting business owners know about upcoming closures and perhaps provide resources to assist these smaller companies in surviving through the slow times of construction season. She points to other municipalities in the United States and Alberta that create brochures for businesses to assist them in dealing with road closures.

Streater says she’s posted the news across Facebook and has been notifying customers who walk through the door about the upcoming closure, but she adds it’s much harder to reach the older demographic who perhaps don’t use social media.

And while she realizes that the infrastructure upgrades need to happen, the planning process has failed.

“If you have lead time, if I have four months or five months, that’s four or five months worth of people that are coming in that I can advise and say, ‘Hey look, call ahead, we’ll have it ready for you,’” she says. “There are just other ways we could have offset or planned.”

In response to Streater’s request, the possibility of creating such a brochure or finding ways to assist business owners was raised by Councillor Amy McQuaid-England at the most recent meeting of the city’s community services committee, adding she would be raising the issue at regional council as well.

“I think we need to look at giving businesses a bit more notice,” McQuaid-England says, noting that small businesses are those most affected by the closures.

“Having a drop in customers really does affect that business a lot more than it does a sort of mid-range to larger chain business,” she says. “If we’re looking at economic development, if we’re here to support all the businesses and we’re doing all of these things…then we need to see how do we help the current businesses.”