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LETTER: Why are there two standards in downtown Orillia? (5 photos)

Downtown merchant says some owners feel targeted while others are left unscathed; 'It makes for an awful work environment in downtown Orillia'

OrilliaMatters received the following letter from downtown merchant Ellen Wolper. She expressed concerns about downtown sidewalk policies in a story last week and wanted to add some more thoughts about the issue.
The way our downtown functions is an enigma.  

We have 200-plus businesses within this small geographic area that is overseen by the Downtown Orillia Management Board, which has two full-time staff, 1.5 maintenance staff and a $400,000 annual budget.  

Even though we have a dedicated sidewalk clearing machine, the Hako, it is often broken down.

The last few weeks the sidewalks have been plowed nicely; but our last email from the DOMB at the end of January stated the Hako was having a hard time with the deep snow and getting up hills. If the sidewalks were maintained all this time then there shouldn’t be an accumulation of snow nor any hills to go up!

Then a warning email came Monday morning (Feb. 4) from the DMOB that with the warmer weather we were to scrape off the snow and slush down to the pavement as bylaw officers were coming around to survey and possibly ticket.  

If you were lucky enough to check your email, had the extra equipment to hack away at the hardened snow, and the staff ... some people are working retail because they can work at a job that doesn’t require the physical labour and some stores are staffed by one person at a time.  

DOMB maintenance staff could have followed bylaw (officers) that day with the offer of extra help. Those of us who got a letter had a two-hour time limit to comply or a possible $75 fee if inspected again later and not done.

And then, at the bottom of my warning letter, it encourages me to do my job and be a good neighbour…the previous times the Hako has been down I’ve emailed DOMB staff and some volunteer board members to get out and help and that I had shovels to share.  

They’re asking me to be a good neighbour? Hey, that was my idea!

What was the motivation for the tour?  

It couldn’t have been for reasons of safety or accessibility. Only 15 businesses were served and many others that got passed over had it the same or worse.  

Was it based on a complaint? A single anonymous complaint is enough to initiate a whole process, even about something as trivial as the peel-and-stick letters of a store sign.  

Would the conversation between the complainant and bylaw have gone something like this: "Well, I want to be able to walk quickly and easily past these particular stores but when it comes to the banks, pharmacy, clinics, post office, bus stop, street corners, city parking lots... it’s OK if I am slowed down and have to navigate through the slush, ice, snow, ruts.”  

Yes, it’s the sidewalks in front of these businesses and city properties that are consistently not shovelled when the Hako is down. Some of them, actually all of them, have multiple staff.

Is it beneath them to go out and shovel once in awhile? It’s not for the rest of us. 

The irony is that postal workers would refuse to deliver mail if our residential sidewalks/driveways/stairs weren’t shovelled, yet we are expected to bring them our mail through bad conditions.  

The shame is that it could be so good downtown. As I walked around downtown after the deadline had passed, the sidewalk surrounding the library towards the city parking lot was immaculate; they must have their own dedicated maintenance staff.

But while walking further down Andrew Street towards Mississaga Street, the city sidewalk was covered.  

Cross the street to the DOMB office and their sidewalk was also impeccable; I’d be curious to know if it was maintenance staff or office staff that did that job! 

Looking up the street at the next two businesses - so new it’s only been weeks if not days that they’ve been open - and their sidewalks are covered. What would it take for the DOMB to do the sidewalk for them or go out and explain to them what is required of them? 

Looking further up, at the empty former Carousel Antiques and Bi-Way buildings, their sidewalks were undone, but DIane’s Beauty Salon and Crossroads Staffing were. Further still, the sidewalk in front of CIBC is untouched.

As far as I know, no one was fined.  

Time and time again, small business makes things happen and gets things done; on top of all the other things we do to grow our businesses.  

It always falls to us in the end; it makes for an awful work environment in downtown Orillia though ... if there are different expectations for different people; when some of us are held to different standards than others. 

That’s the unnecessary challenge of doing business in downtown and perhaps all of Orillia. Within the four walls of my store, wonderful things happen among wonderful customers and wonderful staff. 

But outside is ugly for many different reasons.

This last photo shows what I discovered at the back of the DOMB office that day; this is the last of many last straws. It's a snowblower chained to the wall. They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words.

I’ll stop here for now and try to get back to devoting my time and energy to where it belongs: my store, with or without the city’s support.  

Ellen Wolper