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Business owners want action, not words on issues plaguing downtown

‘If somebody with COVID goes into a place and spits on food, they would get into more trouble than the people shooting up in the streets and selling drugs’
211020-suzettePeters
Suzette Peters, owner of the Cedar Nest Décor Café on Cedar Street, says she loves owning a business downtown, but feels the city could do far more to deal with issues of crime, homelessness and drug use on downtown streets. (Heather Green-Oliver/Sudbury.com)

A week that saw two violent stabbings in the city's downtown core has pushed Mayor Brian Bigger to develop a “task team” that will address the social issues that have been plaguing the area.

Bigger met with community leaders on Tuesday to discuss strategies for tackling issues of violence, drug use, vandalism and mischief in the downtown, but the evening before he held the meeting, a number of downtown business owners were having a meeting of their own.

Many downtown businesses have been victims of vandalism and owners have witnessed first-hand the issues that run rampant in the streets of downtown Sudbury. Despite the recent spike in incidents, these business owners are not ready to give up on the place they've chosen to call home and are ready to fight for their corner of the city, several told Sudbury.com.

"Our long-term goal is really to continue to push the authorities that we need to have on board to give us the programs that the downtown needs that they've promised," said Sue Peters, owner of Cedar Nest. "The master plan, where is that? What happened to that? We're a great bunch of dedicated downtown business owners and the downtown isn't going anywhere. We need police presence, everyone says it, we need action."

Peppi Panini owner Jay Bertin has been running his shop in the downtown on Durham Street for six years and was recently a victim of vandalism as one of his shop's windows was smashed. Despite his frustration with the latest incident, Bertin said this type of thing has been persistent in the downtown since he first opened his doors.

"This is probably the sixth time we've had a window broken. We've had four or five break-ins over the years as well," said Bertin.

"To be honest I think the system is flawed in how these types of incidents are being dealt with by the police. The police find the people responsible and they're back out on the streets the next day. We've been dealing with issues like this since day one and there hasn't really been any slow down. I think these people are realizing they can get away with it."

Bertin said that while police response has been soft-handed when dealing with cases of mischief and vandalism, the core issue is a much larger, systemic problem.

"A lot of these people doing these things, they have drug issues, they have mental health issues and there's no place for them to go to get the help they need," said Bertin. "They're desperate and they're just looking to get some money. It's the same type of people you see committing these crimes, if not the exact same person."

Cedar Nest has also been victim of a trio of incidents since they opened nearly four years ago on Cedar Street, which has been a hotspot for some of the downtown's most violent incidents. 

Most recently, one man was hospitalized after being stabbed in an altercation on Cedar Street on Sunday evening.

In November 2019, an 18-year-old was charged with second-degree murder in connection with a fatal stabbing that took place on Cedar Street.

Where Cedar Street has seen more violent incidence, a few streets away, on Elgin, it’s a slightly different story. Monique Legault owns and operates an art studio on Elgin Street and said that there is almost a world of difference just a few blocks away.

"For myself, everybody I've dealt with has been great. The group of homeless people that I know have been nothing but wonderful to have around … I don't deal with a lot of the issues that other business owners do," said Legault.

"I feel like because I'm on a different end over on Elgin Street, it's just a different feel. I've never really had to deal with people laying in front of my door or anything like that. But for Cedar Street, I really feel for them — it's almost like it's the worst area of Downtown Toronto. 

“It doesn't make sense for this little small town Sudbury and we've got the worst area on this one little street. It may not affect me as much as it affects them, but we need to get this fixed."

Penny Peterson sold her Pita Pit location in the downtown on Cedar Street a short time after the fatal stabbing in 2019, which occurred near her shop. While Peterson had been planning to sell the downtown location long before the incident, she took it as a sign that it was time to get out of the downtown.

Peterson owns two other Pita Pit locations and has GSPS officers who frequent her restaurant that have told her things have been tough in the downtown.

"I do run into a few officers when I'm at the Regent or Kingsway locations and they tell me that it's getting pretty sad down there," said Peterson.

"I just feel so bad for (current business owners downtown). I know at the time when I did what I did (leaving downtown) they felt kind of put out, so if I say negative things about the downtown that affects them and their customers. But somebody down there has to take control. 

“When I was down there, I took control at Pita Pit. I was out there every bar night dealing with people, but it never upset me because that's part and parcel to it, you're serving drunk people and people who might be high. It was so sad that I saw the streets getting overrun around me, but I didn't know how bad it's gotten down there."

For Cedar Nest owner Sue Peters, she's willing to accept that crime is a reality in the downtown, but says that there needs to be stricter and faster enforcement from the police.

"There's always going to be some crime that happens, I'm not saying that it's ok, this is what cities go through, (but) we need the police to respond. We need them to respond quickly when our alarms go off, when we have video of somebody perhaps vandalizing or breaking in somewhere," said Peters.

"The city needs to help us afford security and afford different ways of preventing it in our own establishments. I've never had Mayor Bigger show up at my place in three and a half years, so I would really like to see some councillors, to serve somebody lunch from that council and have an opportunity to speak with them."

Peterson echoed Bertin’s sentiments that police response to many issues in the downtown is far too lenient.

“Why have they tied the hands of the police to control this? They take them in, then they get out, they take them in, then they get out … there’s no control,” said Peterson.

“If somebody with COVID goes into a place and spits on food, they would get into more trouble than the people shooting up in the streets and selling drugs. There’s something wrong here. If the mayor is having this meeting, take control of your town and put control back where it belongs.”