The latest numpty move by the Kensington business association (BRZ) calls into question why these member-driven organizations still exist. They are there to serve their members, not the best interest of the neighbourhood or public at large.
The Kensington BRZ is demonstrating this beautifully. First it banned food trucks from Hillhurst, the inner-city neighbourhood where the BRZ is located. Now it has stopped a popular arts market from holding its Christmas fair for three weekends in December, at a time when demand is high for locally made gifts, rather than those made in China, which proliferate Kensington gift shops.
Market Collective offers local artists, artisans and musicians the opportunity to showcase their talent every month. Funny how it was a great fit with the character of the neighbourhood when it was founded four years ago, and brought to life an otherwise dormant building. Now the city-owned Ant Hill building has a main tenant, and city officials seem quite happy to send the Market Collective packing, over petty concerns raised by the local BRZ.
The Calgary Parking Authority instead has offered the collective space in a parking lot downtown. Nice move BRZ, sending the art market to another neighbourhood, along with the thousands of shoppers it draws to Kensington. Those people tend to stick around for a few hours, check out other shops and maybe even have a bite to eat or a few drinks.
The best excuse the BRZ could come up with for opposing the artists is an unapologetic fear of competition.
"Kensington is full of small business owners who are competing with each other and with malls and the rest of the city for shoppers," said Annie MacInnis, spokeswoman of the BRZ. "These are our three busiest weekends for shopping and the BRZ is spending a lot of money on Christmas this year and trying to draw shoppers to Kensington and we would like the focus to be on our member businesses," she told the CBC.
Here's a news flash Annie: In a capitalist system the customer chooses where to place the focus, not the business association that's funded by its members.
Here's another news flash: competition is actually good for business. It attracts more customers and increases demand for one's product or service.
The BRZ got away with chasing food trucks out of the neighbourhood, even though Kensington is exactly the type of area where gourmet-on-the-go food would have found great success. The urban village attracts families and college students during the day, and the bar-crowd at night, all of whom get hungry but don't necessarily want to spend the time or money on a formal sit-down meal.
Business revitalization zones are supposed to be "economic incubators" for small independents, according to the Calgary BRZ website. They're not supposed to pick winners and losers based on their own glaring conflict of interest.
With citizens now threatening to boycott Kensington for their Christmas shopping this year, local shops are fighting back, distancing themselves from the action of the Kensington BRZ.
According to the Market Collective Facebook page:
"Dear Everyone! One thing that we really want to make clear is that the Kensington BRZ makes decisions for the Kensington businesses, and each decision is voted on by a board. It is the intention of the board to represent the businesses fairly, but this is not always the case.
"We have had a ton of emails, tweets, and (Facebook) posts from local businesses saying that the decision to limit MC does not represent them. Please make sure to keep this in mind, because there are so many awesome places in Kensington who were not part of the decision making process."
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As I said, Calgary needs to rethink the idea of BRZs, or at least the one in Kensington.
"Telling the business I work at that 3,000 extra people a day are causing us to 'lose business?' Really? I wonder if Annie said that with a straight face," said one of many angry readers commenting on the Calgary Herald website. "What a joke the Kensington BRZ is. As a long-term resident who works in the neighbourhood, I can honestly say that, from what I have seen and heard, the BRZ should be dissolved. It really does nothing for the community but serve the interests of personal friends of whomever is appointed 'president.'"
The short-sightedness, yet again, of the BRZ is appalling but just as bad is the Calgary Parking Authority, for acting on the BRZ's complaints. Offering artists space in a dark and stinky, underground parking lot, that has zero street visibility or walkability is outright insulting. Thankfully the Market Collective turned down the offer.
If the holiday shopping season is going to be quieter this year in Kensington, there's no one to blame but the local BRZ Grinch, determined to steal Christmas.
One can only hope the parking authority decides to play Santa, by allowing the art market to operate for three full weekends in December.
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