Tired of the drugs and petty crime, business owners reluctantly leaving Mitton Village

These business owners are leaving Mitton Village, from left: Marc Piquette and Piquette Frozen Meals, Andrew Dawson and Wired Nation, and Jennifer Arsenault and The Village Pet Shoppe. Glenn Ogilvie

Cathy Dobson

They won’t go quietly.

Andrew Dawson, Jennifer Arsenault and Marc Piquette have had enough.

Each has operated a small business on Mitton Street near Davis for years, and all three are packing up and leaving by the end of this month.

And they want people to understand why.

“Mitton Village has low rents and is a great incubator neighbourhood for new businesses,” said Dawson, owner of a computer repair shop called Wired Nation.

When it opened four years ago, Mitton Village was relatively vibrant but the petty crime has intensified, he said.

“It’s been exhausting. There’s been a slow decline. I’ve literally watched as windows are boarded up, doors are kicked in, shoplifting is a regular occurrence, and the tweakers walk down the street.”

The final straw came last fall when clients said they didn’t want to leave their computers with him overnight for repair.

“They were afraid of theft, so I started to load everything into my car every night and take them home,” said Dawson.  “I decided that if you want a higher level of clientele, you can’t stay here.”

He has a second store in Wallaceburg and intends to focus on commercial clients at a different location in Sarnia.

Next door is The Village Pet Shoppe, owned by Arsenault.

“I’m done,” she said.  “I was broken into (on Jan. 11). They kicked in my back door, took my float and made a hell of a mess.

“I used to call the police all the time but they can’t do much. They arrest them on B&E (break and enter) and they are out by the time the paperwork is done.”

She blames a drug problem in the area, noting addicts constantly use a house behind the shop.

“A lot of them are fine when they aren’t high, but then they get aggressive and it’s awful. There’s one we call the Firestarter because she gets angry when she’s high.  She set our building on fire.”

Marc Piquette, owner of Piquette Frozen Meals, said it’s time for him to go.

“They stole my mailbox and kicked in the door just before Christmas,” he said. “I lost my float.

“It’s minor theft and it’s annoying.”

Piquette said landlords aren’t repairing buildings for a reason.

“They just get vandalized again,” he said. “Drugs are obviously crazy down here. We see people tweaking out and there was a young girl in her early 20s sleeping in the parking lot behind my building. It’s really unfortunate.”

Piquette is moving his retail business to The Downtown Market on Christina Street and to Purdy’s Ideal You in Point Edward. He’s also building a new location in Plympton-Wyoming for his growing wholesale business.

“I heard Mitton Street used to be very beautiful,” Piquette said. “I’ve only seen it get worse since I opened four years ago.”

Mitton Street is the focus of a city-driven committee that hopes to reverse the slide of once-thriving commercial district.

But Dawson, Arsenault and Piquette doubt it will make much difference.

“I really don’t know what will help,” Arsenault said.

But Christine Provencher has a very different perspective and is digging in.  She bought a house on Mitton Street near Wellington Road about 10 months ago.

“It is bad but I’m stubborn,” she said. “There is no way I’ll leave.”

She was robbed the day she moved in.

“All the copper pipes were removed from my house that night, along with my guitar, my computer and other items,” she said.  “I really miss that guitar and computer.”

She said she bought without realizing a nearby house was full of transients, many with drug problems. She often wakes to the sound of domestic disputes and noise from drug trafficking.

“I moved here to be central so I can walk downtown or to the river,” Provencher said.  “I can’t afford to live somewhere else. It was a good price.”

She said she calls Sarnia Police about twice a week and sleeps with a hunting knife. “These are crazy people and I don’t know what else to do.”

Arrests have been made and at times it is quiet, Provencher said.  But she believes police need tougher laws to make better enforcement possible.

“I also think that maybe we need asylums, like they used to have.  There are so many drug addicts who don’t want to help themselves.”

Provencher said she’s disappointed Wired Nation, The Village Pet Shoppe and Piquette Frozen Meals are leaving.

“This is really sad. There are also nice people with good jobs and families who live here,” she said.

“There has to be a solution.”