Downtown businesses remain open through flood
By Sue Tiffin
Published May 18, 2017
Downtown Minden businesses have largely remained open despite flooding in the area that caused the township to declare a state of emergency.
Business owners in the area said store traffic has been significantly slower since flooding began on May 4, but that they would remain open until directed by town officials to evacuate.
“We are open and will stay open,” said Shawn Chamberlain, owner of the Dominion Hotel. “In times like this, people count on us for food, drink, a smile and information. We don’t want to let them down.”
Business owners agreed that information is being communicated significantly faster and more effectively by the township compared to during the flood in 2013, with press releases being hand delivered to area employers.
“The township has been so much more prepared this time than last time in terms of communication, in terms of paperwork, in terms of keeping people up to date on what’s going on,” said Shawn Smandych, owner of Ommmh Beauty Boutique and Sassy Digs.
“Way, way, way better than last time. But that’s because they’ve had the time to do so versus last time, which happened fast, and was the first time. Everyone was in a panic.”
A press release distributed at the end of business day on May 11 regarding closure of Bobcaygeon Road at Newcastle Street and Milne Street between Newcastle and Water Streets to “non-residential pedestrian release” posed confusion for residents, business owners and even councillors, who were unsure of whether businesses in the downtown core could be accessed.
Lisa Schell, councillor for Ward 1, which includes the downtown business area of Minden Hills, asked for clarification of the release at a council meeting on May 12. Later that day, a revised press release noted that the streets would be closed to “non-essential pedestrian use.”
Brent Devolin, Minden Hills reeve, defended the restrictions on pedestrian movement.
“Is it having some implications on some businesses? Yes, it is. Staff, the group [emergency municipal control group] are going to err on the side of caution. Will there be some individuals that incur some financial issues and be mad at us about it? Yes. It’s what we must do.”
Mark Coleman, director of community services and emergency information officer during the state of emergency, said the road closure was necessary for public safety, which he called a priority.
“With the weekend traffic increasing, we are attempting to minimize the out of town onlookers and any traffic/turn around issues,” he said.
Coleman said on May 10 he wasn’t aware of any stores in the area closing, but as news of the bridge closure spread, downtown businesses began posting reduced hours and closures on social media.
“Hopefully the downtown road restrictions will be as short as possible. If water levels start to drop and weekend traffic does not become an issue, a relaxing of restrictions will occur as soon as possible.”
Smandych said Ommmh, on the north side of the main street bridge, continued to be busy and was unaffected by flood waters, but made the decision to close Sassy Digs, next to the Gull River at Bobcaygeon and Water Street, for a few days after the press release regarding street closures.
“Sometimes it’s a question of, closing Main Street on a one-street town, the ramifications of that are huge,” said Smandych. “How that’s going to affect people, I can’t say and I don’t know, but from our perspective – has it affected us? It will affect us, yes. Has the water itself affected us? No. It’s just a loss of business, and that’s minor for four days compared to people losing their homes. So it’s all about perspective. You have to look at it in terms of what’s important and what’s valid.”
At Pharmasave, business was slower but the store was responsive to those in need of help, including offering medication delivery via their usual delivery service.
“As far as we know, we’re open to business as usual,” said Sandra Heywood, store clerk. “We’re basically an essential service. We’ll do our best to help people out that need it.”
Organic Times, just north of the river, was unaffected by flood waters this week but reduced store hours due to lower store traffic and monitored news releases and water levels.
“We’re trying to be here for people,” said Laurie Mackie, store clerk. “We’re doing fine, other than it’s very quiet. We’re just kind of going day by day.”
The health food store escaped internal water damage during flooding in 2013.
“We were totally surrounded, we were like an island,” said Mackie. “Now, the water in the road isn’t even to the centre line, whereas in 2013, the whole road was covered in water. It’s bad for tons of people, it’s devastating, but the water’s not as high as it was in 2013. Not that it might not get there.”
Gordon A. Monk’s funeral home was unable to hold water back during the flooding, and closed to the public, although co-owners Kirsten Monk and Barry Cray were working with local churches and service clubs to continue hosting funeral services during flooding.
Beaverbrook Golf Course, located alongside the Gull River, was unable to open their golf season, and announced a closure until flood waters had receded.
“We have many holes under water,” said Melissa Bull, golf course employee. “All of our machines had to be moved up to get them out of the sheds that are flooded.”
Bull said staff was working to prepare to open once the course had dried out and damage could be assessed. The golf course was affected by the 2013 flood, as well.
“We’re trying to keep optimistic,” said Bull. “It will take a long time to recover from this flood, the financial loss is great, but we have been here for 76 years and we will keep going.”
Schell said supporting local businesses should be encouraged when flood waters have receded.
“I’m hopeful that when all of this is said and done, maybe people will go out for lunch or shop downtown because they want to help, and make an effort to try to support each other when we’re able.”