Downtown businesses making most of reopening weekend following 'Freedom Convoy'
For 26 months, Little Victories Coffee Roasters has been stationed on the corner of Elgin Street and Sparks Street.
They’ve been open for four of them.
"It just felt like another blow to what’s already been like a pretty tumultuous two years for us in this location," Co-Owner Andrew Bassett describes the past three weeks of extended closures, their doors sealed shut after an incident involving staff and a member of the "Freedom Convoy" on the Friday it first arrived, now one month ago.
"To be, really ground zero for all this, that was interesting," he added.
Finally, Saturday, Bassett watched through the large windows of his coffee shop as the fences that sealed off Elgin Street and much of the downtown core were removed, and with them, one of the barriers to accessing his business.
"We’re still unsure if people are going to return to this area, we’re still unsure if people are going to be comfortable coming downtown. We just kind of take it day by day just playing it slowly and steady," Bassett said.
In the ByWard Market, where barriers have been cleared since last weekend, there’s hope that one of the city’s most iconic districts might finally be returning to normal.
"For the first time, it was a week since the 'Freedom Convoy' left, it’s been a nice feeling. Friday was really good, Saturday was good," Ihab Mouma, lead bartender at Nan’s Parlour said.
"We got a lot of people, we talked to a lot of people, asked them how they felt, they asked us how we’ve been through, it was really nice to reconnect with the other residents of Ottawa."
The cocktail bar, that opened in December 2021, stayed open for nearly the entirety of the "Freedom Convoy" but customers were hard to come by.
"Even during those three weeks, it was really difficult to operate. We didn’t really have any customers; Ottawa residents didn’t have any feeling of security in the downtown areas," Mouma said.
"Ottawa was at its slowest," he added.
Now, a week after the convoy departed, business owners say they are seeing a slow return to normal.
"We’re talking to our customers, it’s such a wonderful feeling. They’re so happy to be back, for us to be back, it’s just been great," Paola Paul, owner of Mantovani 1946, said.
According to local business experts, a return to normal in the downtown is crucial for the city’s economy.
"The downtown is critically important to our culture, to our tourism industry, to our business and our economy, so we want to rebuild business, consumer and employee confidence as quickly and as strongly as possible," Sueling Ching, President and CEO of the Ottawa Board of Trade said.
The City of Ottawa passed multiple supports and initiatives to bring people to the downtown core at council last week, and the Federal government has also pledged support for downtown businesses.
Owners say it helps, but it is the return of their customers and regulars that will drive the restoration of the downtown core.
"It’s pretty much just a fraction of what it takes to be operational, but we’re confident. We’re confident that we’re going into our busy season now. The weather’s going to get nice, downtown is going to get back to normal and we’re really looking forward to it," Paul said.