Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Old Town Kemptville BIA has prevailed. This was the main message that came out of the BIA Annual General Meeting held last Wednesday over Zoom. Despite the pandemic, Kemptville’s downtown grew by eight businesses this year, including a new tattoo shop, toy store, counselling practice, fitness studio, and, of course, the very successful takeover of Geronimo coffee (now Bubba and Bugs Coffee Bar).
These new businesses have not only increased both digital and foot traffic to the downtown, but also created 15 new jobs in the municipality. According to the OTK BIA Annual Report, read by Chair, Debbie Wilson at the meeting, the diversity of businesses in the downtown has allowed them to “weather the storm” of the pandemic. “Though there are still businesses suffering in our community, we count ourselves lucky that things could have been much worse,” Debbie said.
At the beginning of this year, the BIA was committed to expanding its footprint. However, due to the pandemic, these plans were derailed, with the board choosing to focus resources on supporting and advocating for their BIA family. These efforts included playing a role in United Counties advisory committees, working groups, and business support task forces. Input from the BIA influenced the development of several business support programs, including the hiring of private security to look after the downtown during lockdown, and the creation of the NG Green local currency program that is being run by the municipality. The BIA has also put together an associate membership program for those outside the BIA footprint, and they already have three local businesses who are interested in becoming members.
The small, but mighty, BIA was also able to pull together a few special events this year, that drew people into the old downtown. These included the first ever Downtown Promenade, which was hosted in partnership with the municipality, and which introduced many new people to all Kemptville’s downtown has to offer. The event was so successful that they decided not to organize a second one, to ensure public safety as COVID-19 numbers began to rise once again. BIA members and volunteers also played a role in organizing this year’s virtual Canada Day, and they worked hard at putting on a COVID-safe Kreepy Kemptville that saw almost 60 lit pumpkins lining Prescott Street.
Some events that the BIA is looking forward to is a reimagined Old Town Christmas, with festive activities spread out over the whole month of December, including a “Candy Cane Lane” display along Prescott Street. The BIA is also still planning on hosting Kemptville Buskerfest for Spring, 2021, which they hope will become a flagship event for the municipality, featuring both guest and local talent. “Hopefully, we will be able to come up with even more ideas to engage the community and help with economic growth,” said BIA board member Melanie Charlebois.
A good chunk of time was also spent thanking and honouring the BIA’s outgoing Chair, Debbie Wilson. Debbie has been the Chair of the BIA for the past four years and has been a tireless advocate for the downtown for many more. Mayor Nancy Peckford, MPP Steve Clark, and MP Michael Barrett (via pre-recorded video) all popped in to thank Debbie for her hard work as an advocate, local business owner, and friend to many. “The time you have spent at the BIA has made such a tremendous contribution to the municipality,” MPP Clark said, from Queen’s Park in Toronto. “You’re sought after for your passionate approach to issues, who builds people together, and wants fellow businesses to grow and flourish. Somebody who epitomizes community spirit and community action.”
The BIA’s finances are looked after by two people integral to the BIA’s operations, their financial advisor, Andrew Beveridge, and Treasurer, Stephen Bent. Stephen gave the BIA board and guests an overview of the BIA’s finances for the year, which saw them sitting on a very small surplus. Stephen says the OTK BIA has one of the smallest budgets in the province. “You certainly get maximum value for such a small budget,” he said.
The OTK BIA is aware that there is still a lot of uncertainty about what the coming months may bring. They are committed to continuing to serve their members and play an integral role in the North Grenville community. Mayor Peckford says that she and Deputy Mayor Jim McManaman (who sits on the board as the council liaison) are very happy with the work of the very active and vibrant BIA, which continues to provide shelter from the storm for local businesses.
The BIA also thanked all their partners and volunteers in the community who have played a huge role in supporting them over the past year. This includes council, which has made the downtown a priority in their council work plan, municipal staff, the Kemptville and District Community Association, Frank Hoffman from Canadian Tire, the North Grenville Public Library, local media outlets, Tom Graham of TD Graham & Associates, Andrew Beveridge, Meagan Cumming of the Kemptville Stress Relief Centre, and Wendy Embleton and Melanie Charlebois for the use of their business locations as office space for the BIA. The board also gave a huge shout out to their Executive Director, Deron Johnston, who works incredibly hard with very few resources to support and bolster the downtown business community. “Through the tireless efforts of our volunteers, by continuing to strengthen our relationships with members, and by leveraging new and existing partnerships, we will do our absolute best to continue to create the conditions for success for our members,” Debbie said.