Viewpoint: Holiday decision puts Centretown in awkward position

When Whole Foods at Lansdowne Park opened its doors to the public on Good Friday in April 2015, customers came rushing in. The store was packed, not only because Whole Foods is popular, but because it was the only store open within eight kilometres on the holiday Friday.

Whole Foods opened in contravention of a provincial law that prohibits businesses from operating on statutory holidays, unless they are in a designated tourist area. Now, after a recent Ontario Municipal Board decision to formally designate the Glebe as a tourist area, stores in the trendy retail district will be able to legally operate on certain holidays: Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, Family Day, Victoria Day, Canada Day and Labour Day.

The Glebe BIA, who requested the designation, said the exemption will give businesses the power to choose for themselves whether or not to open on holidays, and that they will respect the choices of individual stores.

However, the choice is less than simple. Any store owner who decides to open on a holiday will surely see competitors make the same decision — when those competitors have the option to do so. Staying closed would mean missing an opportunity to earn revenue, even though opening would mean that hardworking employees get one less day off.

The OMB decision does not just affect stores in the Glebe, as competing businesses on the north side of the highway will be left out.

The Sparks Street Mall is already allowed to open, but other Centretown businesses — like those who are part of the Bank Street BIA, located near the city’s signature landmarks — are currently not given the choice.

The Glebe BIA argues its neighbourhood should be a designated tourist area because of its location and popularity. Lansdowne Park has a history of being a major attraction in the city and has the advantage of a fairly central location, unlike the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata.

Lansdowne Park, however, is not unique in its combination of green space and popular boutiques, as Westboro could just as easily argue that it deserves a tourism designation.

Once development in LeBreton Flats is finished, businesses there will surely also want the same designation, and the province may be obligated to give it to them. The redeveloped Lansdowne Park has become a great venue for entertainment and a hub of activity, but it is only a small part of a whole neighbourhood that has been given this designation.

While Lansdowne attracts a lot of visitors, it would be hard to argue that all of the Glebe’s businesses rely on tourist dollars to stay afloat.

Meanwhile, shops in Centretown are bound to lose business because of this decision, despite being in a neighbourhood that hosts many tourists all year round.

If Centretown businesses are going to be disadvantaged by other neighbourhoods opening on holidays, they should at least have the option to do the same.