Pubdate: Sat, 17 Dec 2016
Source: Packet & Times (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Orillia Packet and Times
Author: Dave Dawson
Page: A4


Last week, city council heard some pretty alarming statistics about
Orillia's downtown. While most of us can agree we have a unique,
quaint downtown with some must-visit retail attractions, most also
acknowledge the Mississaga Street strip is experiencing some tough

That was confirmed by urbanMetrics, the consultant firm that, at the
behest of the city, compiled an inventory of existing and available
space downtown, analyzing the retail gaps to be filled through future
investment-attraction efforts. The analysis found a vacancy rate of
18.4% in an area that includes the downtown and its environs - that's
the largest vacancy rate of comparable downtowns they studied. It's
important to note those numbers reflect the traditional downtown core
in addition to three nearby properties - 70 Front St. N., 10 Western
Ave. and 4 King St. E. - which account for a third of that vacant
space. So, the numbers may be a bit skewed. But just take a stroll up
the main street and you might be surprised by the sheer number of
unoccupied stores. It is worrying.

Despite that, this week, the Downtown Orillia Management Board (DOMB)
asked council to ban drug paraphernalia stores, marijuana
dispensaries, vape lounges and methadone clinics. The DOMB wants those
enterprises to be prohibited in the downtown by including them in a
section of the Orillia Municipal Code that regulates businesses such
as adult entertainment stores and bars. "The office has received
several complaints concerning the above businesses located in the core
where families gather for community events and shop," the letter to
council stated.

So, on one hand, you have outside, experienced professionals warning
the municipality about the downtown's frailty and expressing concerns
about its future while, on the other hand, you have the entity charged
with ensuring its success wanting to prohibit various types of
businesses it believes project the wrong image for our wholesome
downtown. What rubbish. The market is a brutal and honest arbiter of
what is acceptable and what is not. If these operations are able to
keep the lights on and serve their customers - and bring people
downtown - leave them alone. Instead, energy should be expended to fix
the parking problem, tackle high rent, talk about issues related to
store hours or to find ways to attract new tenants to our beautiful

Because, it is a slippery slope indeed when we start imposing "our"
set of values on free enterprise. It is, as Paul Sieger of Paul's Para
Fernalia said, absolutely absurd. "Why don't you shut down every
person that sells cigarettes, because cigarettes are more dangerous
than pot?" he asked.

The whole point of the downtown's much-maligned sign bylaw and myriad
other regulations is to ensure downtown businesses conform to the look
and feel of an old-fashioned downtown. But, just as downtown anchor
stores like Woolworth's, Zellers and Top Drug Mart evolved and moved
out of downtowns, the actual services and stores customers covet in
2016 have similarly evolved.

To target enterprises like vape lounges is ridiculous. In a vapour
lounge, customers bring in their own medical (prescribed) marijuana;
they cannot sell it, buy it or give it away. The business does not
sell marijuana; rather, it provides a safe place where like-minded
people can get together and socialize. Sounds a lot like Mariposa Market.
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MAP posted-by: Matt