Recent heavy snowfall and lack of clearing in St. John’s is frustrating downtown businesses — and their customers.
Late Friday afternoon snowplows in the metro region were busy moving snow to make room for more snow. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
Rob Collins, owner of Hava Java, said he doesn’t lay all the blame for clogged streets and snowbanks at the feet of the city — but his customers do.
“The biggest thing is people are going, ‘why is it taking so long to happen?’ Is it that it happened earlier in the year than normal?” he said. “It sounds like, from what I’m hearing, they just don’t know what the problem is.”
It’s hard to tell how much his business has been affected lately, Collins said, because things slow down downtown after Christmas. “There’s no doubt it’s affected people wanting to come down,” he said, noting that the city banned parking on part of Water and Duckworth streets. “Right now, Water Street has no parking on one side, because the meters are covered. So that cuts the ability for people to park in half. That definitely has an impact.”
Collins said his biggest frustration is what he’s hearing from the city “doesn’t seem to add up.”
“‘We’re out there. We’re doing all this stuff.’ Well, if you’re out there doing what you normally do, a lot of this stuff would be out of the way,” said Collins. “I’ve seen it in previous years. We’ve had lots of snow. … It’s been freezing cold, a rare type of December. I’m not blaming it all on the city, but I guarantee you, everybody else is.”
Chef Tony Butt, owner of The Reluctant Chef, said snowclearing has been atrocious, but his largely evening business — which closed for a week and a half over the holidays — hasn’t been affected too much.
“All of these people that rely on Christmas shoppers just to be walking in for the five or six or eight days leading up to Christmas downtown, they must have been devastated,” he said. “It was brutal down here to get around.”
Still, it’s hard for him to lay blame completely on the city, he said. “I don’t know how difficult it is to clear all this snow,” he said. “Our streets are narrow at the best of times. When we get weather, we’ve got to deal with it, and I’m sure we’re limited in resources.”
Kim Sparkes, owner of Whink, said the weather and snow is preventing people from venturing downtown in the first place, and the parking problems have also affected her employees. “They’ve got to find parking, too,” she said. “It’s been really hard on my employees trying to find parking.”
Sparkes said she thinks the city is doing a good job, considering how much snow St. John’s has received. “It’s probably a lot of harder to deal with it because a lot of the snow we did get was over the holiday season, so that’s another issue,” she said. “Overall, I think they’re doing a good job, but at the same time I think there’s always room for improvement.”
Paul Mackey, the city’s director of public works, said operations are gearing up to deal with the expected heavy snowfall overnight Friday. “We’re switching over to storm preparation this morning and this afternoon,” he said Friday afternoon. “We have to change over our trucks to salting operation and put blades back on, that sort of thing. With the cold temperatures, that’s a bit of a challenge outdoors, getting that done. Everything is frozen. … We’ll be out spreading salt and starting to plow.”
The city’s expecting a lot of drifting overnight, and Mackey said he expects the staff will be dealing with the cleanup all of Saturday and into Sunday. Once the cleanup is done and driving lanes re-established, the crews can resume trucking out snow, he said.
“When we get a storm like this with a forecast like this, with the wind being a factor, we look at the exposed areas, the higher-elevation areas, areas like in the Goulds and Kilbride where you have a lot of open land and fields, you tend to get a lot of drifting,” he said. “That becomes an issue, keeping those roads open. Visibility becomes an issue as well. Sometimes if we get extreme conditions, we may have to close streets temporarily for safety reasons.”