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Downtowners frustrated

Belleville, Ontario coop looked down on for having a diverse clientele

by Bruce McVicor


Posted 6 days ago

Jane Ahern says she wants to be able to go to work every day without fear, but a downtown business' clientele is preventing that from happening.

Ahern, owner of Special Days Cards and Gifts, was one of a handful of downtown business owners who voiced concern over the people who loiter on the sidewalk outside the Organic Underground on Front Street. The issue received lengthy discussion at Tuesday's Belleville Downtown Improvement Area board meeting with several members indicating they want something done about the matter.

Janet Harnden first brought the matter to the table, specifically asking Belleville police Const. George Bongard what can be done to prevent people from congregating outside the Organic Underground coffee shop. Harnden said people tend to stand outside the shop and block the sidewalk making it difficult for pedestrians to get by.

"We can try to move them along," Bongard said. He added there will be a stronger police presence in the downtown in coming months as both officers and community policing volunteers will make an effort to prevent people from creating problems in the city's core.

But the people who visit The Organic Underground are not causing problems, insists owner Katharine Davis. Davis, who opened the café nearly three years ago, said the business is providing a place for all residents, regardless of their economic or social background, to socialize and work.

"We want to build a community and community, by its definition, means everybody," Davis said. "In our space right now there are kids who are cutting potatoes, taking out the garbage, carrying out groceries ... If they weren't here then they'd be hanging out downtown."

But, people are indeed hanging out downtown and many of them congregate in front of Davis' café, said Ahern. During the board meeting she said there are often people standing in front of the shop and they are impacting her business and other establishments in the core.

Though Bongard said officers could utilize bylaws and the Provincial Offences Act to fine loiterers, many of those charged never pay the fines and, ultimately, ignore the system. He said pursuing the problem through such means would likely not make a large impact.

"It seems they're getting all the rights," Ahern said. "Where are my rights to have a safe environment to work in?"

Davis said her customers have been asked not to stand and smoke directly in front of the café and she is not aware of any instances where people have been "yelling and hollering" at people on the sidewalk. She said she does not feel the city's downtown is unsafe and does not believe any of her customers add to others' fears for their own safety.

"I don't think you'll meet a friendlier group. It's not lost on us, though, what the rumours are," she said.

Davis said she was not invited to Tuesday's meeting, but hopes she can work with her neighbours to better educate them about what the café is trying to achieve. The goal, she said, is to operate a business where everyone is welcome and helping to keep Belleville's downtown vibrant and successful.

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529 words


Belleville, Ontario coop looked down on for having a diverse cli

Not sure what organization they are referring to when the title says "... Ontario coop" looked down on ...."
The Organic Underground isn't a co-operative, and other than the mention in the title, the word "co-operative" isn't even mentioned in the article.

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