Shoppers avoid downtown during protests

By Matthew DeBock

Last weekend’s G-20 meetings left Ottawa businesses reeling, with some merchants considering a class-action lawsuit against the federal government to recoup losses estimated by some at up to $10 million.

“We were definitely impacted by loss of sales,” says Sonja Koktan, assistant manager of HMV on Sparks Street. “People basically just steered clear of downtown.”

About 2,500 mostly peaceful protesters took to Ottawa’s streets during the summit Nov. 16-18. A few violent incidents, road blockages and a large police presence also contributed to the uneasiness.

Koktan says her store was not directly affected by protesters, but nearby businesses were. A McDonald’s restaurant just around the corner on Bank Street had several windows smashed.

“We did have questions of closing early,” Koktan says. “But is was business as usual until we were notified otherwise.”

Other businesses did decide to close early. Hallmark, only two doors down from HMV on Sparks, was one.

“We were nervous,” says manager Vickie Studholme, referring primarily to the attacks on the nearby McDonald’s.

“We’re an American corporation too, but we sell good feelings, so we hoped we wouldn’t be a target.”

Even so, Hallmark closed early on Saturday, citing lack of business.

“Customers were afraid,” Studholme says. “They didn’t want to come downtown.”

She says no one expected the protests to extend that far from the meeting site at the Conference Centre on Rideau Street.

“The incident at McDonald’s was just bizarre,” she says.

Both Hallmark and HMV have sister stores in the Rideau Centre. Koktan and Studholme both say that those stores were affected even more drastically by lost sales.

Business improvement associations in the Byward Market and along Rideau Street have decided to launch a class action lawsuit aginst the federal government for compensation.

However, Studholme says her store will probably not take part in any lawsuits.

“Maybe the Rideau Centre, if they get all the stores together, maybe the mall could sue,” she says.

While businesses will feel the long-term effects of the summit, other citizens were also left with a dim view of the way protests were handled.

“I support anyone’s right to protest,” says Andrew Scheer, a fourth-year student at the University of Ottawa, who also works in a government office on Wellington Street. “It took me an hour to get home, which is an annoyance, but when you start to disrupt peoples’ lives in a lasting way…”

Scheer says he was surprised by some of the actions of the protesters.

“I was surprised by all of the anarchists and anarchy signs, and by slogans like ‘IMF=death,’” Scheer says. “I think a lot of the protesters, if you asked them what the IMF has done that’s so bad, they wouldn’t have a clear answer for you.”

He says this indicates a problem with the way organizations like the IMF and G-20 operate.

“Maybe they should try to be more transparent,” Scheer says. “They could release more information about what exactly the meetings are about, so people have a better understanding of what they are protesting.”