Op Ed: A thriving & welcoming downtown is good business

Nov 1, 2021

A thriving and welcoming downtown is good business

By Shakiba Shayani, President and CEO, Guelph Chamber of Commerce

Guelph’s business community has begun the long and challenging process of rebuilding from the COVID-19 pandemic. For many businesses, rolling lockdowns and additional restrictions have caused significant hardships. Recovery will take time for all of us. 

But Guelph is not the same community we were before the pandemic. Businesses unexpectedly shut down and people lost their jobs. The places where we spent time together like restaurants and drop-in spaces were closed. Life became even more difficult for those who are struggling or homeless. 

In summer 2021, the Guelph Chamber of Commerce proudly joined community organization Toward Common Ground to spearhead a process to address the changing needs of Guelph’s diverse downtown community. We met with social service organizations, community members who use downtown spaces and access services, and the businesses that are located in the area. We had one goal: let’s lead by example and work collectively with community partners, including the City of Guelph, Guelph Police Services, and other community organizations towards creating a downtown environment that is welcoming and thriving for everyone.

During our conversations, we heard some of the ways our community has been impacted by the pandemic. Substance use and demand for services such as mental health supports and food supports have risen alongside pandemic uncertainty and stress. Indoor spaces where people spend time together in community have restrictions due to public health requirements.  Access to facilities – including public washrooms – has been limited. The guidelines that protect our health have also contributed to our isolation.

Why is this a job for the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, the voice of Guelph’s business community? It isn’t. It’s a job for all of us. 

If our business community is an essential component of a healthy and prosperous Guelph, then our broader community’s wellbeing must be prioritized. Already we are working with our partners to make changes to programming and resources in our downtown core. We commit to sharing progress in the coming weeks. 

I hope you will join us in our collective efforts to build back from this pandemic towards a business environment and a community that truly makes space for everyone. And don’t forget, please shop local and be kind.