By Carolina Di Giulio
The Glebe is endowed with distinct storefronts, great restaurants, historic landmarks and charm in abundance. But who are the people behind the scenes helping to make it thrive? Patrick Burke is one of them.
Originally from Toronto, Burke moved to Ottawa at the start of the pandemic and instantly fell in love with the Glebe. “The community was great, and the businesses were a lifeline for me,” he said. “Everything I needed was so close and I walked into stores and people were really friendly. That connection was really important when we were a little bit confined at times over the past few years.”
When the opportunity came up to advocate for these businesses, Burke jumped at the opportunity. He became the executive director of the Glebe BIA last November.
There are currently 19 Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) in Ottawa – Bank Street, Byward Market, Downtown Rideau and the Glebe being among them. A BIA allows local businesses and property owners within the district to join together and organize, finance, improve and promote the area as a business and shopping district.
Having previously worked for Toronto’s Financial District BIA, Burke says he wanted to bring his experience in order to help give back to the community that welcomed him.
“I feel really fortunate to have this role. I’ve worked in the BIA world during a pandemic and I felt like I was able to make a positive contribution.”
The Glebe BIA represents 370 businesses and works with the municipality to champion the Glebe, support its distinctive businesses and preserve the unique character of the historic and dynamic neighbourhood, while positioning it as a place to live, shop, visit and do business. The BIA’s revenues come from fees paid by member businesses through municipal property taxes and is overseen by an elected management board with 10 volunteers, a full-time executive director and a full-time communications and engagement officer.
“So if you’re in the Glebe and you see lamppost flowers or the Christmas lights or the gateway signage at the north and south end of Bank Street, those are all investments that businesses made in the community,” Burke explains. The Glebe Spree, for instance, was the BIA’s brainchild.
“That’s the kind of work that I’m really excited about: being a part of that community building. And on top of that, being familiar with a lot of the stores already and being able to walk in and chat to someone you know and call each other by our first names, that’s a huge sense of comfort when you’re in a new city, especially during a pandemic.”
“I think that is part of the reason why I took on this opportunity in the midst of the pandemic.”
As we start a new year, Burke is optimistic about 2022. “When I look towards the future, I think the Glebe is going to become more vibrant over the next few years. There are going to be more opportunities for people to eat, work, shop and play.”
For Burke, honouring and respecting the community connection is key for it to continue to thrive, even in the most unpredictable of times. “I think the community has really shown up to support local businesses. And I think there’s really a sense of gratitude there, that the people have made the effort to shop local and remember those family-run independent businesses in the Glebe. It’s challenging times, but I think the challenge has been a bit easier because of the community support we’ve had.” The BIA, he says, along with other neighbourhood groups like the community association, is part of that effort.
“Providing that vibrancy, remembering the roots of the neighbourhood and the community that supports us are really key. And so we want to remind people that businesses in the Glebe are there and that they’re here to serve you, and they’re ready to take care of you.”
Flexibility, Burke adds, is the name of the game to stay on top of the ongoing pandemic.
“These days things change quickly. And so if businesses are offering takeout or curbside pickup, virtual fitness classes, we’re letting people know about that. So even if the way you engage with the storefronts is different, you can still do it. It’s still there for you.”
In the coming months, as the warmer season approaches, Burke hopes community events like the Great Glebe Garage Sale, which usually happens in May, can go ahead as restrictions ease.
“I’m really hopeful that we can offer the familiarity of being out and people being together. Those events are what really draw people to the neighbourhood and give everybody something to celebrate, which I think we’ll all want to do in the next year.”
Carolina Di Giulio is a third-year journalism student at Carleton.