Kelowna city council waives downtown on-street parking fees in support of local businesses

Initiative was designed to help rebound from COVID-19

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By Corvin Vaski

Businesses in downtown Kelowna are hoping the city’s offer of two days of free parking this year will bring relief after the tough months of the pandemic.

The Downtown Kelowna Association made a request to city council to waive downtown on-street parking fees for the association’s Small Shop Saturday event that will be taking place on two Saturdays, April 9 and Sept 24. 

Small Shop Saturday has been held in previous years downtown, and council has approved free on-street parking for it before, but the event has not been held for a few years. 

“We’re looking at ways to get traffic built back up downtown and after some brainstorming with the team here, that’s what we decided to do is to go back to Small Shop Saturday,” said Mark Burley, Downtown Kelowna Association executive director. 

The pandemic has affected foot traffic, for small businesses downtown. City council decided providing complementary on-street parking was how the city could help out.  

“It’s just a request was made of us I think and it’s something we can do. It’s one way to sort of try to boost and encourage people to come downtown and support local businesses,” said Coun. Charlie Hodge.

“I mean it’s something small we can do to help out.”

Beneficial event

The event has been successful in previous years with participating shops having special one day sales and prize-draws being held for customers who make purchases at participating businesses. 

With more people downtown not only are small shops benefiting, but so are the restaurants, distilleries, salons and other services. 

“It creates more traffic of people walking around using all of the city streets and then maybe they’ll go out for lunch or stop for a cocktail or go out for dinner later in the day,” said Burley. 

The event comes at a time when the weather is beginning to clear up and small businesses are starting to see increased sales after a few slow months.  

“it’s been like incredibly slow, so anything that attracts people downtown, I’m like just super grateful and like appreciative that their [DKA] doing something,” said Brittney McCormick, owner of Hey Ma, a clothing boutique. 

City council is familiar with waiving on-street parking fees during the busy shopping season, but McCormick said she would like to see free parking or other incentives during the offseason. 

“It would have been really cool for something to happen in the winter or like in the extremely slow months, like March was really bad for my store,” said McCormick.

More relief on the way?

When the request was brought up during the March 14 council meeting, council wondered if there would be the possibility of free transit to also be offered on the two Saturdays. 

City parking services manager Dave Duncan said in the meeting that city staff have not had enough time to look into free transit and that this is more of a one-time request. 

 “We do want to find a different way to deal with these requests in the future because we do realize it is somewhat counterintuitive to what we’re trying to accomplish [environmental goals],” said Duncan at the meeting. 

The request was quickly passed by council because of the help it would bring to local businesses in the downtown area. 

“The bottom line is we want to support small shops, so that’s the bottom line, but if we can get more people down there by other means as well, certainly that’s important,” said Mayor Colin Basran at the council meeting. 

There might be free transit for future events like Small Shop Saturday, but that is something city staff will look into because the transit system in Kelowna is shared with five other regional partners. 

Council’s decision is supported by local business owners. 

“I think city council taking the time to highlight us [small businesses] is incredible,” said McCormick. 

Watch the video above to learn more about the parking waiver.

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