Sarnia’s tradition of weekend walkabouts is getting a reboot, with a trio of events planned for the downtown this summer.
Council voted 8-1 last week to allow Christina Street to be closed to vehicle traffic one weekend each month to allow family-friendly activities and live entertainment organized by downtown business owners and the local Chamber of Commerce.
Each weekend will feature live music, First Friday cultural activities, Saturday theme events, and Sunday car shows.
The concept is a new version of the weekly summer street closures that took place during the pandemic, which proved unpopular with some business owners who found closing Christina Street discouraged retail shopping.
The three Saturday themes this summer are:
* Dog Days of Summer, July 9, a pet-welcome day with play areas, displays and vendors, the Humane Society, and Fox and Hound.
* Market and Art Walk, Aug. 6, featuring artists and crafts.
* Sarnia Food Festival, Sept. 3, offering local signature foods, cultural fare and seafood.
Mike Service, the owner of Night Life Bistro and Jazz Lounge on Christina Street, spoke to council last week on behalf of the 2022 Summer Walkabout planning committee.
“We lost a lot during COVID, “ he said. “Businesses are not where they were – I know mine is not.”
Service said weekly street closures of the past had limited success at encouraging businesses to expand onto the road and bringing more people downtown.
“There were a lot of lessons learned,” he said.
Each walkabout weekend this summer will see Christina Street closed from 4 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday.
The planning committee was formed last month and so far has the support of 14 downtown business owners, said Service. About half are in retail and the others own bars and restaurants.
The International Symphony Orchestra (ISO), which is headquartered downtown, took a lead role in providing entertainment on Christina Street walkabouts during the pandemic and is involved in the new effort.
The Chamber of Commerce recently sent letters to all downtown merchants to gather more feedback, Service said.
“Our goal is that all will participate and I’m quite sure that, when they see the benefits, they will participate.”
The committee sees this summer’s walkabouts as the first step toward much larger annual tourism events, he said.
Coun. Mike Stark was the lone councillor to vote against the street closure. It’s reasonable to hold a downtown event on the sidewalk but it’s not “appropriate” to ask residents to give up access to a main downtown street, Stark said.
Others praised the new committee and supported the approach.
“I like that it’s only three weekends as opposed to the whole summer,” said Coun. Terry Burrell. “It’s a good move and should work out well.”
Coun. Bill Dennis commended the group for trying something different.
“Yes, in the past it wasn’t an overly huge success but that doesn’t mean we give up. Giving up is for those without vision or commitment,” he said in a prepared statement.