ByWard Market Struggles With Business Mix

There has been a noticeable shift in the ByWard Market from retail to food/night life that has been going on for many years now. The City has put a lot of effort into limiting the number of bars and nightclubs through regulated minimum separation distances.

The City of Ottawa has an interim control bylaw that was meant to control the location and size of night clubs and bars. Since this bylaw was implemented, a new problem has arisen. Restaurants open but then slowly morph into bars.

Lowertown residents are concerned with the challenges around maintaining a desirable business mix for our area. We collectively want a strong, safe, and welcoming ByWard Market. A strong ByWard Market means having locals and tourists of all ages enjoy the area every day of the week.

I spoke at a recent AGCO tribunal appeal, and this was the concern I heard from residents over and over again. There are a number of businesses in the Market that are currently under investigation for illegally transforming from their original permitted purpose.

The main issue is that the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) doesn’t distinguish between a restaurant and a bar when issuing a liquor license. Every liquor licence issued gives the establishment permission to sell alcohol between the hours of 11 am and 2 am. It is only in extremely rare cases that the AGCO will put restrictions on an establishment. This blanket issuing of licenses encourages establishments to have later opening hours in order to increase their revenue.

You may have seen in the news the dispute between Lowertown residents and the new hair salon/ coffee shop called Headquarters. For a long time this location was Canadian Rug Traders.

I’d like to emphasise that I have no issue with this business having a liquor licence with its current operating hours (9am-7pm Monday to Friday and 9am-5pm Saturday and Sunday), nor does our community in general. Our concern lies with the chance of this business model morphing into a lounge style bar with the hours of operation changing to reflect the broader hours permitted by their liquor licence. In my opinion, since they were asking for a liquor license to supplement the income of the hair salon and café, the liquor licence should have been limited to their current operating hours.

My team and I have been working with community groups to try and bridge the gap between what the City can enforce and what the AGCO regulates. We are currently working with the provincial government to enact changes in AGCO policies. For instance, we’re asking that establishments be forced to reapply for liquor licences if they change owners or business names. In addition, we’re requesting that these establishments obtain a zoning compliance letter from the City. We are encouraging the AGCO to implement restrictions more regularly in order to be compliant with the City’s urban planning goals. Through these measures we will continue to protect the diverse business mix in the ByWard Market.