Just days into his job as the new chair of Elmira’s Business Improvement Area (BIA), Chad Nicholls is overseeing changes at the organization that represents downtown businesses.This year’s sidewalk sale, for instance, has a new name and a whole new look, which aims to bring the fun back to downtown. The annual event has been renamed Blockbuster Sale Days and includes a car show, magic shows, face painting and live bands.
Nicholls says it was time they revived the event with some new ideas and activities for families.
“Historically the sidewalk sales haven’t been the most exciting event,” Nicholls said. “We’ve heard from a lot of people that they wish we’d not put them on anymore. Before, we only had three or four vendors out there.”
The next event runs from August 7-9, with the car show on the Friday. Registration is free and will start at 3 p.m. The show will go from 4-9 p.m., and the road will be shut down at 1 p.m. so that cars can park diagonally on Arthur Street. The barricades will run from Church Street to Gore Park. After the car show there will be a fire show including fire juggling and fire eating.
“We’re hoping it pays off by having people out shopping and realize there’s more to Elmira than living here,” Nicholls said. “One of the things we always hear from people is people move here from Kitchener or Waterloo and they still work there. Their grocery store, their dentist, their lawyer are all in Waterloo. So they don’t even come to the downtown.”
He said their main goal for the event is to get people into the core and into businesses they’re not used to going to.
“We’re hoping this car show gets a lot of people who are in town, downtown. Our whole purpose of the car show is to get people downtown to shop.”
He estimates they can fit 250 cars on the street, but they’ll be happy if they get 100. The car show also isn’t limited to classic or antique cars. Any kind of car can be entered, old or new.
“Most of the storeowners are very excited and a little bit nervous,” Nicholls said. “There are going to be a few spots open in front of, say the banks. So we’re looking to bring local artists in to show off their art.”
He said he hopes this will also help attract more business owners to the downtown core and he’ll be pleased if they see 20 vendors come out for the sidewalk sale. While the majority are in favour of the event, he said there are some who wish they wouldn’t block off the street on Friday.
“There are those few who say ‘Friday’s our busiest day. You’re taking away our customers,’” Nicholls said. “We’re hoping to bring 1,000 people downtown walking in front of your doorstep. You bring them into your store.”
Aside from the Blockbuster Sale Days, the BIA recently launched their umbrella program that provided umbrellas with the BIA logo on them to local merchants. The idea is to have an umbrella handy to loan customers in case of rain.
They have further plans for beautifying the downtown they’d like to see done this summer and next, including bringing in new benches. In the longer term, the group is pushing for a long-discussed truck bypass route to clear Arthur Street of some the traffic and resultant noise and pollution.
“We’re trying to work with the township to do something about the trees, dead trees we want to cut down,” Nicholls said.“We actually want to put them in pots so that when they grow too big you can always replant them.”
They’re also planning to install more bike racks, similar to what Kitchener did with their big bike design, but with an Elmira spin. Also in the works is changing the name of Moonlight Madness and combining it with the Santa Clause parade to get more business for the retailers while people are already in the downtown.
Nicholls has been a member of the BIA for the past three years and said they have two open spots on the executive right now. He originally joined after receiving the newsletter and thinking it could be improved. He previously coached his son’s hockey team for 10 years.
“My son quit hockey so I needed something to do,” Nicholls said. “I inquired about it and they were looking for people. There’s so much potential here and I didn’t think people were tapping into that potential.
“We’re very open-minded and we’re very excited to do things and try to revive the downtown.”