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Do it all downtown: Details »

By Paul Knowles, President of the New Hamburg Board of Trade

Jul 22, 2009

It’s pretty much a “Catch-22”. When there are news stories about the failing infrastructure in our communities — failing water mains, inadequate sewer facilities, potholed roads and so on — we get upset. How, we wonder, has government allowed this to happen?

And then when governmental authorities do tackle the infrastructure problems, with the related disruptions, we get upset. How, we wonder, has government allowed this to happen?

The latter is the case here in New Hamburg, this summer.

The work being done on Waterloo, Jacob, and sundry other streets has certainly been disruptive. Yet it is also necessary — if ever a street called out for renovation, it was the regional road we call Waterloo. The water mains were ancient and continually breaking; work needed to be done.

However, in conversation with many of the merchants of New Hamburg, I have learned that the impact of this project reaches far past Waterloo Street. Of course, the folks with businesses on Waterloo are truly hurting — in the worst case scenario, their business is virtually cut off. Even those who have not yet had construction at their front doors are isolated from much of the town.

I was surprised to discover that the same phenomenon has struck many of our downtown retailers. Business is suffering in our core section, even though most of us may still find the downtown pretty accessible.

I asked some friends who are also businesspeople why this is happening. First, they said, anyone in the eastern sections of the community is very cut off from the core, and many have stopped trying to get downtown — it’s simply easier, with Waterloo closed, to head east to KW.

But perhaps more dangerous on the longer term, they also report that drivers are really, really angry, frustrated at the challenges of getting anywhere in town, and the lack of signage pointing to possible routes.

I saw some of that firsthand when I made my circuitous route to fill up my gas tank in town, and watched driver after driver arrive at the corner of Arnold and Waterloo, by the train tracks, and then sit, baffled as to how to get to Hincks or Catherine or anywhere east. They were clearly angry.

I am not writing this to knock the idea of improving our streets and services — in fact, I applaud the region and the township for taking advantage of available money from higher up to solve some ongoing local infrastructure challenges.

I do wonder, though, if something can be done to lower the frustration level, to make it clear with better signage which streets are open and which are closed, and which routes will get you to your goal, and maybe even to act more expeditiously to allow access to streets (like the Huron to Shade section of Waterloo) where no work appears to be ongoing at the present time.

It would be a shame to have nice, new streets, but to have turned off visitors to the extent that they never come back to town to drive on them.

It would also be a shame if any of our growing and innovative family of local businesses were to suffer and fail because of such municipal projects.

One thing we all can do is to remember that the health of our community depends on many things, including the health of its retail sector. The next time you are tempted to skip shopping in town because it’s a little more inconvenient to get to a business on Peel or Huron or Waterloo... or anywhere else in town... think again.

Your five extra minutes to get to that place of business may be the difference between keeping local entrepreneurs strong, or losing some of the very things that make our town what it is.

I urge you to make the effort, find your way to our local businesses, and help ensure they are here when all the road work is finally done.