— Downtown Edmonton Community League Update —

Making a Winter City

Downtown businesses warming up to winter

The temperature may be taking a dip, but that doesn’t mean the downtown economy has to.

For several years, the City of Edmonton has been encouraging businesses and the community to embrace winter with their Winter City Strategy. Those adaptations are even more important this year with COVID-19. 

“Businesses are going to embrace a lot of the principles in the winter city strategy,” said Chris Buyze, president of the Downtown Edmonton Community League. “Unfortunately it’s taken COVID to do that. Maybe there’s a silver lining that we may have a bit more vibrancy in the winter months than we have had in the past on the street.”

Businesses have had to adapt to changing regulations and safety precautions to deal with COVID-19. Restaurants and bars looked to patios and outdoor dining during the summer months, which are considered to be safer with a lower likelihood of COVID-19 transmission. Plummeting temperatures would normally push patrons back indoors, but in the middle of a pandemic, businesses may look to keep their patios open and keep patrons coming back. 

The temporary patio program with a streamlined approval process has been extended until at least March 31, 2021. The city is evaluating each proposal to ensure it works with snow removal and pedestrian safety.

“The city has been flexible in allowing people to keep their patio through the winter. It’s now up to businesses to embrace it and make it comfortable for patrons to be there, including heaters and blankets,” Buyze said. “There’s a lot of time in January where it can be 0 and -5 where it can be perfectly comfortable.”

Beyond patios, there is other work being done downtown to bring some joy to the winter months. The Downtown Business Association has extended their Downtown Live program, a grant program that helps bring local artists to different venues in the core.

“The intent is to draw energy and excitement to our business areas,” said Nick Lilley, the interim executive director of the Downtown Business Association. “We want to do that in a safe and manageable way.”

Foot traffic downtown has suffered through the pandemic. Businesses have had to find new ways of attracting clients and keep in touch with those who may not be travelling through the core during the pandemic.

“Agility has become a higher competency for so many different businesses. They need to adapt and be innovative. Everything from expanding digital presence to compliment the brick and mortar approach to knocking down the odd wall to create additional space for social distancing on site,” said Lilley. “We have seen so many rise to that challenge.”