Over the years, the Francis Council has tried to reinvigorate the declining downtown through the misguided logic of replacing the polished shoe set of its office workers with sneaker wearing students from the local college and university. This subtraction of one group with the addition of another has actually left the downtown, as subtraction often does, with less.
Now, mayor Drew Dilkens, apparently prone or required to follow a plan set by former mayor Eddie Francis, wants to further reduce the core’s inventory of paid workers by replacing the offices in the Paul Martin Senior building with more classrooms.
Most students don’t hold high paying jobs, so they have limited disposable income. Some even visit food banks.
This could be the reason, last month, Ali Bazzi shuttered his University Avenue Sunshine Bakery and Pastry. On March 15, the Windsor Star quoted Bazzi as saying, “Foot traffic in the downtown wasn’t there. I couldn’t stay there as it was and survive.”
Some say Bazzi is the baker’s equivalent of the canary in the coal mine. He might be. But, there have been so many other canaries it could suggest the theory is flawed.
That, or people miss the point of the whole canary warning system.
One of the most notable canaries was probably American Apparel. It found a nice storefront on Pelissier Street, but soon after departed with little fanfare.
The global trend-setting clothing retailer was certainly a good catch. Its failure should have been a lesson to Windsor Council. But, instead of paying attention, Council launched into its jaundiced fascination with students.
As Bazzi found out, businesses need an endless supply of people passing their front doors. He wasn’t so lucky, although it took him almost two years to find out. Traffic is something the Francis Council seems unable to grasp.
Possibly rightly so.
Too few of its councillors have ever met a payroll and they prove their inadequate business knowledge on most of their meeting nights.
On many days, the downtown is fairly close to being deserted. The accoutrements of a prosperous High Street left long before American Apparel.
As is often the case with the Francis council, it never expends the effort of taking the time, also known as due diligence, to determine if a market actually exists for its adventures or, as they prove to be, misadventures.
The only solution to saving the downtown is putting a knowledgeable person in charge and to let that person know failure is not an option. Although, the way things are going, including the plan to take the hospital out of the core, it is doubtful even a canary would take on the task.