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Dozens of downtown shops set to stay open late on Thursdays

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‘Something like this late night shopping initiative helps to remind us what a treat it is to have what we have here in Orillia, while bringing businesses and community members together,’ says merchant

Downtown Orillia businesses are determined to make this holiday shopping season a good one. 

To that end, Bird House Nature Company owner Patricia Cousineau had the idea to reach out to owners of other downtown businesses about working together to stay open late in the lead-up to Christmas. 

“I knew Mike (Manticore Books) was going to stay open late, and Kelsey from My Moon Collective had said she was, so I thought, ‘well doesn’t it make sense if we all work together, do it together and promote it together?’” said Cousineau.

“I did a little survey up and down the street, and we all decided Thursdays made the most sense, so that’s what’s happening,” she explained.

More than 30 downtown businesses, plus all the downtown restaurants, got on board and the Downtown Orillia Late Night Shopping initiative is starting this Thursday (Nov. 30) and running every Thursday until Dec. 21. 

“We have the posters all made up, and they have a QR code on them. When the viewer clicks on the QR code it takes them to logos of all of the businesses that have signed up, and the viewer can see their Thursday evening hours, and plan their shopping,’ explained Cousineau.

Kelsey Beesley from My Moon Collective is thrilled about the idea.

“When Patricia from The Birdhouse sent out an inquiry regarding participation in the late nights, I offered help with making posters and social posts for the initiative. I enjoy creative projects and have a background in advertising and marketing,” she explained.

Both Beesley and Cousineau agreed that this past summer’s foot traffic and sales were lower, and the lack of BIA staff has been a source of worry as merchants head into the vital holiday season.

“It felt like there was momentum at the beginning of the summer with the new events, and then when the BIA staff left, there definitely was frustration about lack of events and lack of communication,” said Beesley.

“Mike Fredson (Downtown Orillia Management Board chair) has been really supportive of this initiative and is going to market it through the BIA social channels and everything, so that’s good,” said Cousineau. “And, of course, Manticore Books is one of the businesses staying open late as well.”

Cousineau said parking, however, remains a thorny issue for both merchants and shoppers.

“Of course, the sour taste in everyone’s mouth right now is that there is no free parking downtown this holiday season. So, that is also part of the idea of staying open late,” Cousineau explained. 

“There is free parking after 5:30 p.m. So, come downtown at 5:30, don’t pay for parking, have a drink and a snack, go Christmas shopping, then have a late dinner at your favourite downtown restaurant. Everyone benefits, and all the shoppers have fun,” Cousineau said.

Cousineau and Beesley are excited about the late shopping initiative, and upbeat about the future of the BIA in general.

“From what I understand, there are plans to fill those positions in the new year while working with the support of experts, who will assist in developing stronger outlines and boundaries around the BIA staff’s roles and responsibilities,” said Beesley. 

“Sometimes things need to crumble so they can be rebuilt in a better, more sustainable way. Although the situation was unfortunate, I think it’s best to focus on what we can control in making a better future for the Orillia BIA. It’s better we take the time to rebuild in the right way versus slapping a Band-aid on something that isn’t working and call it fixed,” she said.

Cousineau added, “I am hoping we can get some of the businesses involved in some committees to make some event plans for 2024. I am good at organizing, and Kelsey is good at marketing. So, I feel, with help and support from the other businesses, we can get some good ideas flowing this coming year. I really want to unite the downtown.”

Beesley agreed.

“I think when we live in Orillia and are downtown day in and day out, we forget how great our little local hub is,” Beesley said. “I have people in our shop from all over the province that comment on how charming and full of amazing businesses our downtown is. Something like this late night shopping initiative helps to remind us what a treat it is to have what we have here in Orillia, while bringing businesses and community members together.”

Christmas is the perfect time to do it, she said. “For me, the hope is to bring holiday charm to our downtown.”

More than 30 downtown Orillia businesses will be open late on Thursdays, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 21. For more information on exact businesses and hours, click the QR code on posters downtown. 

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