Charting a direction for Petrolia’s downtown

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Heather Wright
The Independent

Petrolia has hired a consultant to put together a plan to maintain and build Petrolia’s downtown.
Laurissa Ellsworth, director of marketing, arts and communications says James Cox, Leamington’s former economic development manager who is now a consultant, has been hired to work with the Volunteer Business Group as it transitions to a more formal Business Association.
Ellsworth says the VBG has been working on the concept for some time, saying downtown businesses would pay a fee of $150 per year to the association for improvements to the downtown and marketing efforts.
But the plans to roll it out were sidelined by the pandemic.
Ellsworth says Cox will help the town chart a direction for the future after some major changes in the downtown because of COVID-19.

“The focus would be to build an association for the businesses that best suits them,” says Ellsworth. “It’s not about the town making money at all. It’s about them contributing to a fund for proper marketing and exposure and larger campaigns in everything, print, radio, you name it, tourism publications.
“But we really wanted to make sure we have this face-to-face time with our business owners to say, What do you need? What is it that you want? How shall we approach this so that all benefits.”
That’s the job that Cox will take on.
Cox is quoted in Ellsworth’s report as saying “Petrolia has an opportunity to be a leader in this field and develop a unique model for sustaining a vibrant downtown in a small urban community.”
Ellsworth says that may include helping retailers who may be looking at retiring find successors to their businesses.
“When I look around the downtown, I see retailers that have been in business for a long time. And I see family-run businesses that, as we age, I would like to make sure that if there’s anything we can do to help them with a succession plan, or to help them connect with people to sell their business – if that’s an approach they want to take – that we’re here to support them.”
Ellsworth is hoping Cox can reach out to the local business leaders and talk to them about their future and the future of the downtown.
“We really wanted to talk to him about what else we can be doing for downtown. And … making sure that we support everyone and maintain our vibrancy, especially with COVID-19, the very last thing we want is to lose anybody.”
Since the pandemic began, several downtown storefronts were vacated. A couple of businesses closed unable to hold on after the first lockdown. Some businesses went on line. Still others, simply moved out of the core area.
Cox will begin consulting with business owners in November and expects to have a plan by the spring.
Aside from the $5,000 set aside for Cox’s consulting fees, the town has set aside $25,000 for marketing local businesses.