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BEHIND THE SCENES: ‘New reality’: Downtown bridal shop latest to lock door during business hours

SooToday's Alex Flood takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on SooToday's Alex Flood, whose story "‘New reality’: Downtown bridal shop latest to lock door during business hours" was published on Feb. 8.

Below is the full story, in case you missed it.

Another downtown storefront has been forced to implement additional security measures as safety remains a hardline issue for business owners along Queen Street.

Ivory Lane Collective owner Amanda Carchidi took to social media this week to remind her customers they have begun locking their doors during business hours after she noticed a sudden rise in thefts and harassment at her store.

Those incidents prompted Carchidi to post a sign on her front door last month that asks customers to knock when they wish to enter her bridal shop.

“We’ve noticed customers walk away because they’re not sure if we’re open,” she said. “If we’re in the back, it can take us some time to get to the door. I know they probably feel frustrated with us. I feel bad they’ve taken the time to drive downtown and pay for parking to come see us and then thinking we’re closed.”

When SooToday visited Carchidi’s store on Tuesday, her team had just installed a doorbell — a system she describes as a “growing trend” for Queen Street establishments.

Savoy’s Jewellers and Anipeg Tattoo are among those that have been locking their doors during the day for some time now. The bridal shop owner didn’t think she’d ever need to join that list.

“I never thought this was something I’d have to do in the ten years I’ve run this business, but now I feel like we need it,” she said. “We want to support our city and downtown, and we want customers to support us — but we’re struggling with this. The community’s concerns need to be taken seriously and actually be worked on. People need to feel safe.”

Just down the street, the team at Algoma Bicycle Company have kept their doors locked during operating hours for nearly a year now.

While the shop’s part-owner Paul deBeer said it’s been an effective way to thwart petty theft and other disturbances, the doorbell system is one he wishes they didn’t have to use.

“It’s not ideal or how we’d like to do business, but it’s a new reality now,” he said. “We’re hoping it hasn’t deterred customers from coming in — that’s always a gamble, of course. You want people to feel welcome.”

Could the presence of a downtown police station curb these concerns?

As SooToday reported last month, the city police force has identified the former Algoma Central Railway station in Station Mall’s parking lot as their preferred location for a downtown precinct.

While the timeline of the project is currently unknown, the new police station is expected to eventually employ 17 officers and cost $3.6 million, spread over four years.

“I’d be 100 per cent in support of a downtown presence, but I don’t know if it would be enough to unlock my doors again,” Carchidi said. “It would help businesses when they’re open, but a timeline on if we’d unlock the doors is hard to say.”

“A police station downtown may impact our decision, but we’d have to see fewer people coming in to try and steal,” deBeer added. “That’s hard to know ever since we’ve had this system in place. But if we saw less of that, we’d revert back for sure.”

In a phone interview with SooToday, Mayor Matthew Shoemaker said the issue of locking doors “shouldn’t be normal” and he remains hopeful the police service's budget increase of around $5 million will help mitigate these concerns.

“We should do what we can to ensure businesses downtown feel a sense of security and safety so they can have their doors open to customers during active business hours,” he said. “We need to get to a point where they feel comfortable doing that, because it should not and cannot be the norm on a long-term basis. It will just discourage further investment and activity in the downtown.”

Downtown Association executive director Nicholas Luck wants to remind business owners and citizens there are several resources available in cases where vulnerable people or those experiencing mental illness are causing disruptions:

Downtown Ambassadors

  • Monday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Saturday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • 705-989-8483
  • Additional details here

Homeless Prevention Team

  • Available outside of regular business hours
  • 705-942-5837
  • Additional details here

“Nobody wants to lock their doors, but if that’s going to safeguard their product, then that might be the best route,” Luck said. “The best way to protect your business is ensuring you have safeguards in place, and our website has some best practices to follow through city police.”

“We’re in full support of a downtown [police] division,” he added. “There’s full intention to be close partners, and everyone is very excited that there’s going to be more presence.”