London business owners are heading into 2023 with optimism as they dust off the cobwebs left behind by COVID-19, the heads of associations that represent them say.
Despite some grim economic forecasts for the coming year, the business improvement associations (BIA) in the Argyle, Hyde Park and Hamilton Road areas of London are forging ahead with incentives to get consumers spending at local merchants.
"Going into 2023, I have a lot of optimism," said Bethany Mejia, who heads the Argyle BIA in east London along Dundas Street. "We're quite blessed in Argyle because we have a steady customer base, and we don't really have to convince people to come and shop here. You go to our businesses on a Saturday, and they're full."
Construction that tore up Dundas Street east of Highbury Avenue caused businesses to lose revenue, but it finished and won't have the same negative impact this year, she added.
LISTEN / London Morning asks local BIAs what they are doing to help their businesses thrive:
But there are issues with security in Argyle, and because police officers are backlogged and can't get to non-violent incidents quickly, the BIA is upping its security budget from $12,000 to $20,000 for the year. That will give business owners access to a private security firm if they have a break-in or encounter with someone they need to leave their property, Mejia said.
Across the city in Hyde Park, there is increased traffic congestion, which impacts pedestrian safety. Two major residential mixed-use developments are also being constructed in the heart of the neighbourhood, and there are few public transit options for people in the area, said Donna Szpakowski, the head of the Hyde Park BIA.
"It can be very difficult for our businesses to attract and retain employees and at the same time, it can be a very challenging for potential employers who could be a good fit for Hyde Park to be able to get their employees out to Hyde Park within our current busing system," she said.
Diversity — the latest census numbers reveal that 20,495 newcomers settled in the London region between 2016 and 2021, most from India and Syria — is being reflected in the business and residents of different parts of the city, said Carolyn Luistro, head of the Hamilton Road BIA.
"Our neighbourhood is culturally diverse, and we encourage entrepreneurs of all backgrounds to consider Hamilton Road a place to set up their business," she said. "The diversity is reflected on our current board of directors."
Hyde Park, too, has a high ratio of immigrant groups, and some have started calling Argyle 'Little India,' said Leah Thomas of the Argyle BIA.
"We take a lot from the Fanshawe College population, which has seen a rise in Indian students, and we've seen that reflected in the businesses that have opened in our areas," Thomas said. "Argyle is such a homegrown community, and everybody in the area loves to support people who are living in and next to each other."