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Summer-long road closures end for Argyle and Grafton streets

Downtown Halifax Business Commission’s ‘shared streetscape’ vision comes to life

4 min read
caption Tony Nahas in front of his Argyle Street Shawarma Stop.
caption Tony Nahas in front of his Argyle Street Shawarma Stop.

Business owners on Grafton and Argyle streets welcomed crowds of people Saturday, ending this summer’s dry spell.

The Downtown Halifax Business Commission hosted a daylong street party to celebrate the reopening of Argyle and Grafton streets. Family activities and musical performances were planned from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., ending with a show by DJ Skratch Bastid.

By midday, Argyle and Grafton were crowded with people peering into storefronts, buying shawarma wraps and walking their dogs.

The commission represents 1,600 businesses in the downtown Halifax area. Paul MacKinnon, executive director of the not-for-profit organization, spoke with families and local business owners at the event. 

“It’s hard to believe that it’s finally here,” MacKinnon said in an interview with The Signal. The new street design has been his vision for 15 years.

The Prince to Blowers section of Argyle Street and the Prince to Carmichael section of Grafton Street have been under construction since June 1. During the summer, the streets were closed to vehicles. Now, according to the Halifax Regional Municipality website, Argyle and Grafton are unlike any other streets in Atlantic Canada.

The streets are wider, with more room for outside patios and benches. Although the roads are curb-less, tactile strips are in place to separate the road from the “pedestrian zone.” While motorists are allowed to drive through Argyle and Grafton, they aren’t allowed to park on the streets. The “shared streetscape” design encourages pedestrian traffic.

caption Mayor Mike Savage laid the final Argyle Street paving stone Saturday morning.

MacKinnon said the $5.5-million project will better serve businesses that have been burdened by disturbances from construction sites, including the Nova Centre. The centre is located on Market Street, towering over Argyle and Grafton businesses. Construction on the Nova Centre began in August 2012. The multipurpose development will be home to a convention centre, a hotel and business offices. 

Restaurants on Argyle and Grafton were not given patio licences this summer. This area includes a number of businesses including Freeman’s Little New York, The Wooden Monkey, Lot Six and Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub. Shawarma Stop saw fewer customers during this summer’s construction, according to owner Tony Nahas.

“It was brutal, nobody walking on the street. The business was pretty much dead until today,” he said.

Philip Holmans said his shop, World Tea House, nearly went out of business because of construction obstructing his storefront. On Saturday morning, after Mayor Mike Savage laid down the last paving stone, Holmans washed his storefront windows with a squeegee and a bucket full of cleaner.

“You know you’re a small business owner when you have to do it yourself,” Holmans said.

caption Philip Holmans greeted customers on Saturday, after the day’s opening events.

MacKinnon said it was a tough decision to start another development project in this area.

“We said ‘when it rains it pours, so let’s do it at the same time,’” he said.

Not everyone at Saturday’s event was excited about Argyle and Grafton streets project.

“They don’t need to spend millions of dollars. For what? To keep who happy?” Roy Richard said to The Signal.

Richard said he has friends who are trying to get off the streets. The municipal government, he said, should spend more money on trying to improve living conditions for low-income families than on street reconstruction.

“They should have thought about people on the streets first,” he said.

MacKinnon said that businesses were anticipating a slow summer. The road closures, he said, gave business owners opportunities to “do reinvestments inside their own businesses.”

Nahas is optimistic about Argyle’s new design and expects business to pick up. He’s hopes there are more street parties in the near future. For now, Nahas said local business owners are relieved that the roads are finally open.

“They’re counting their blessings today, I tell ya.”

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