“Signs, signs, everywhere signs…”
The Smiths Falls Downtown Business Association (DBA) sparked some unintended controversy the other weekend as it posted some new signage designed to let the public know that Beckwith Street businesses remain open while the first phase of street reconstruction is under way.
The signs, with humorous messages such as “I Dig Beckwith” and “Drills Just Want to Have Fun” are posted on the fences sealing off the excavation in the east lane of Smiths Falls’ main thoroughfare. They also include a line stating that “Sidewalks and all Beckwith Street businesses are open.”
The three businesses most directly affected by the construction, which will see the replacement of century-old subsurface water mains and the installation of new sanitary and storm sewers, are Ger-Bo’s Steakhouse, BMO, and Pizza Pizza, all located on the side of the street which has been excavated.
On Friday, Nov. 15 the DBA posted a sign on the fence in front of Ger-Bo’s reading “Celery is 95 per cent water and 100 percent not pizza!” with the accompanying message that sidewalks and businesses are open. The sign provoked considerable discussion on local social media pages speculating about the motivation of the message, and whether it was promoting or discouraging the consumption of pizza.
The sign was removed on Monday, Nov. 18. “Some people didn’t get the joke, and Ger-Bo’s approached us last week,” said Gaelle Giraudeau, who has been coordinator of the DBA since August.
Giraudeau said similar signage is popular at construction sites throughout Ontario and is aimed at “trying to lighten the day of people.”
Ann Mavraganis, proprietor of Ger-Bo’s along with her husband John, said customers kept asking what the sign meant. “No one understood it,” she said. Her son Perry, manager of the restaurant, contacted the DBA and asked for the sign to be removed.
The DBA coordinator said regular meetings with the construction contractors are held so that the association can provide its members with progress updates. In addition to impacting the right hand lane of the first block of Beckwith Street, the construction work also required the closure of part of Main Street East from Nov. 5 to 19 so that new sewer lines could be installed through the intersection.
The contractors “are trying to work as fast as they can,” said Gireaudeau, and will refill the excavation, install a temporary surface and remove construction fencing for the winter. How soon this takes place will depend on the weather, she added.
Giraudeau said she tries to maintain close contact with DBA members, and is aware that some members are concerned about street closures impacting the flow of customers. The DBA attempts to address all concerns that are brought to the office.
“The DBA has nothing to do with the design of the street,” Giraudeau added. “We are just here to make sure the businesses are supported.”
John and Anna Mavraganis said the loss of parking spaces in front of Ger-Bo’s has hurt business, but that the long-established restaurant has many loyal customers who continue to be supportive. Mrs. Mavraganis said she had been thinking of asking the town for a break on water and tax bills to compensate for the loss of business revenue. The owners of Ger-Bo’s also said they were disappointed that the town has chosen to replace angle parking with parallel, which they said is contrary to the preference of the majority of businesses and members of the public they have spoken to.
“(The Beckwith Street redevelopment) has to be done,” Mrs. Mavraganis said. “We understand the pipes have to be fixed.” She added that the construction crew has been working very hard, and that the workers are very polite and responsive to questions about the progress of the work.
Staff members at both the Smiths Falls BMO branch and Pizza Pizza informed the Hometown News that no complaints from customers about access have been received. BMO has a rear parking lot accessible from Chambers Street, and Pizza Pizza also has parking available nearby on Main Street, so the impact of the temporary loss of parking spaces on Beckwith is minimal.