The return of the downtown Covid-19 drive-through testing tent is deterring customer traffic along 47 Street, say business owners in that area.
The large white tent, set up in the parking lot behind the Primary Care Centre by the NWT Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA) offers testing Monday to Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
But since it was set up on Sept. 8 it has reduced some of the lot’s parking capacity, in turn forcing more people to find other parking spots like the metered spaces along 47 Street. Business owners say those spots would normally be occupied by their customers.
“They can’t find a parking spot,” said Elke Richter, owner of Elke’s Table. “I see them driving around and around and I hear from customers and they say, ‘you know, there is no parking here. We tried to find a parking spot – we couldn’t.’
“Some people (try to) come by car for a half-hour lunch, but the spots are gone. So nobody comes here. I’m suffering from that.”
Richter pointed to other spots on the street where blue “reserved” bags are placed over the meters.
“My customers are not allowed to park there.”
The parking issue has made a bad situation worse for the restaurateur, whose customer traffic has already been reduced by 50 per cent because of the loss of tourism.
“All that I have is locals. And then you reduce them by half again. So when you’re running on sometimes 25 per cent of regular capacity at lunchtime – it’s bad. It’s really bad. They have to change something. I’m tired of this. This is the city’s problem. Do they want to put us all out of business?”
Richter said she has complained to the city administration about the parking problems and is still waiting for a response.
Richter’s neighbour, the Mermaid & Moon Boutique relies on foot traffic from Elke’s and from the Juniper Clinic on the other side, said owner Meredith McNulty.
“I have found that the only available parking is often being taken up, which more often than not is not by customers of the businesses on 47 Street,” she said.
“When they don’t have parking for their customers then that means I may have less people come through my door as well.”
At Juniper Clinic, owner Dr. Michael Bokor said his patients are facing the same issues, and not for the first time.
“When the Covid tent went up last time in March we noticed a big decrease in parking,” Bokor said. “People were struggling to make it on time and they had to walk a few blocks and they were missing appointments. At that time we sent emails to our MLA and to the city and the answer was ‘it’s wrapping up shortly anyways, too bad.’
“When the tent came back it became a concern again. My biggest concern is our patients who have mobility issues. They can’t easily walk and some people are 10 to 15 minutes late for appointments and aren’t able to get here. They shouldn’t have to walk a few blocks when they can’t find parking.”
Staff at the clinic have been hearing at least one complaint every day from patients since the drive-through tent came back, Bokor said.
In the past, he has been able to secure reserved parking spots in front of the clinic but he can’t afford to do that year round.
“I hope the government can see how this is affecting small businesses on the street and that they mitigate that and help us get through this.”
NNSL Media has inquired with the City of Yellowknife and the NTHSSA for comment and is awaiting a response.