The Old Town Kemptville Business Improvement Association (BIA) held their first meeting with their new Chair last Wednesday, welcoming Meagan Cumming to the position.
Former Chair Debbie Wilson was at the meeting and expressed her best wishes as the board continues to serve the downtown and BIA members. “I think there’s a lot of champions in this group, and I think you can carry it forward,” she said.
The BIA has been hoping to expand its footprint for some time now to increase membership and strengthen the organization. However, due to COVID-19, that project has been put on hold as they focus on supporting their members through multiple shutdowns. The BIA has been working hard at connecting with other community partners, like the municipality and the Chamber of Commerce, to help local businesses now and as they recover from COVID-19. They are also looking forward to several community events in the downtown, once restrictions are lifted. These plans include more promenade events, like the one held in partnership with the municipality last summer, Buskerfest in spring 2022 and of course the 104th International Ploughing Match set for fall 2022, which is expected to bring thousands of people to the municipality. “I think it’s important that we prepare our members and the downtown for that because we are talking about tens of thousands of people coming to our area,” said BIA Executive Director Deron Johnston.
Tourism is also something that is on the BIA’s radar and Deron hopes that the BIA will play an integral role. The municipality’s new tourism coordinator started on Monday, and their goal will be to execute the new tourism strategy which was put together by MDB Insight earlier this year. The BIA will join the new tourism advisory committee that will help guide the implementation of the tourism strategy. “Tourism is something that is very important and something that we’ll be focusing on for the rest of this year and moving forward,” the municipality’s Economic Development Officer, Matt Gilmer, told the BIA board.
One priority will be making the downtown bike-friendly, which Deron says will require the cooperation of their member businesses to make it happen.
While the BIA is maintaining a positive outlook and looking towards the future, Daren says many downtown businesses are struggling. He is very proud of how many have adapted to the ever-changing climate of the pandemic. Thankfully, they haven’t lost many businesses and the health of the downtown community has remained stable due to the variety of different service-based and retail operations who have all be affected by the pandemic differently. “That doesn’t protect individual businesses, but just sort of the overall health of the downtown business community,” Deron says. “We’re fortunate in that there are a number of businesses here who have not really been as impacted as others. But that’s not a reflection of sort of the individual businesses and some of the things they’re going through.”
To help support the business community, the Municipality announced last week that they will be providing $100,000 over two years to the BIA and the North Grenville Chamber of Commerce. Deron believes that with this investment from the municipality and other support programs that may be coming down the pipeline from provincial and federal government, there is definitely hope for Kemptville’s downtown. “If we can just get through this, I feel like there’s lots of good stuff coming our way,” he said. “There’s going to be lots of opportunities for us to support our local businesses and sort of help push them back either to where they were before, or higher in some cases.”