Open Air Dunlop has been a breath of fresh air for downtown businesses and the public

Long-time business owners note a change in their clientele

Four Saturday’s of Open Air Dunlop as a pilot last fall and Kelly McKenna says the Downtown BIA knew they were on to something.

Open Air Dunlop was launched in partnership with the City of Barrie last year to help businesses hammered by the pandemic and lockdowns, and the necessary but lengthy road closures brought on by the Dunlop Streetscape project.

A section of Dunlop Street became pedestrian-only between Mulcaster and the Five Points.

McKenna, who is executive director of the Downtown BIA, says even though not all businesses were open to full capacity in 2020, the crowds came.

“They wanted to be able to have additional space, walk and take in the fresh air. We experienced a massive influx of visitors to our downtown.”

Not to let a good thing go to waste, the BIA and the City of Barrie expanded Open Air Dunlop to 15 Saturdays through the entire summer this year to coincide with patio season.

Walk this way to Open Air Dunlop
Open Air Dunlop(Barrie 360)

“Open Air Dunlop gives people the opportunity to come down and experience the brand-new streetscape, our fabulous patios and small businesses in a really friendly and open environment, which is key during a pandemic,” says McKenna.

Meridian Place, which had been fenced off during a portion of the spring because of anti-lockdown protests, has come back to life. McKenna says the BIA chose to let not-for-profit and other community groups set up tents and information booths to give the public an opportunity to learn about the different resources available in Barrie.

McKenna says this summer she has heard from business owners that have been in the core for 10 and 25 years, and they have told her they are seeing a different clientele, made up of younger people and their children.

“I think it’s people who have moved to Barrie and just haven’t really seen their downtown,” says McKenna. “This is a great opportunity on Saturdays for them to come and experience it safely without vehicles.”

September 11 will be the wind down to the summer version of Open Air Dunlop, but McKenna says there are discussions with some partners about looking at maybe two pop-ups in October.

More is better seems to be the motto from a number of merchants and the public, based on data the BIA has collected. In fact, some people have told McKenna the BIA should consider a pedestrianized Dunlop Street all the time.

Looking to grow and improve Open Air Dunlop is front and centre for the BIA.

“We did pilot the west end of the downtown for four weekends but we discovered there was not a massive retail presence, which is something I think we’re going to have to start working on with the city, developers and businesses for more shops and restaurants.”

“I think our prime location is really Five Points to Mulcaster Street, at the moment. But you know, things change, and as things change, we’ll adapt to suit our members.”