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Night mayor? Maybe not. But, downtown Kitchener businesses have ideas to boost city nightlife


A newly created so-called ‘night mayor’ position in Ottawa meant to boost nightlife in the capital is generating discussion for businesses in downtown Kitchener, looking to shed the label of a core that closes after 10 p.m.

On Friday, a pair of downtown boosters offered thoughts to CTV News as to the next steps forward to bring about more vibrancy to nightlife in the city.

“Every time I see somebody say, ‘everything closes … at 10 p.m.,’” said Cara Watson, the bar manager and events coordinator at AOK Craft Beer + Arcade. “I’m like, ‘No!’ There [are] at least six bars I can think of that are open until at least midnight during the week.”

The bar is found along Halls Lane in Kitchener and is one of several that have survived the hardships brought by the pandemic.

The shift to remote work has seen an exodus of tech workers from the downtown as companies cancel office leases in favour of work-from-home schedules, contributing to a decline in the coveted foot traffic which helps bars, restaurants and coffee shops thrive.

Watson, also a member of the Downtown Kitchener Business Improvement Area (BIA), said there needs to be a focus to help bring and attract more events to the core to re-introduce people to what the downtown has to offer.

“We just need more of those events to ramp up and get people down and get people to remember that — downtown is beautiful,” said Watson. “We have tons of art. We have tons of really interesting spaces. Tons of cool bars.”


Justin Vail is the owner of Sugar Run in downtown Kitchener - a speakeasy-style bar tucked away at the other end of Halls Lane.

Like AOK, the cocktail bar survived the hardships of the pandemic, which he believes still presents a challenge for downtown nightlife.

“I think there’s still a bit of a bumpy road ahead, but it is getting better,” said Vail. “That [the pandemic] was a very large problem, and usually very large problems don’t have a very quick-fix turnarounds.”

Vail is open to the idea of a night mayor-type position as a means of helping to change the narrative around the downtown.

“Downtown gets a bad rep’ because of its economic standing over the last however long, but it’s changing,” said Vail.

Watson also pointed to perception as a key hurdle.

She said concerns about downtown safety don’t match the reality of the experience of those who frequent it every day.

“We’re still kind of climbing back out of that [idea that], ‘downtown is a scary place,’” said Watson.

For Vail, renewed attention to lighting in downtown Kitchener is something he believes could help people feel safer on a night out.

“Lighting [is] hugely important,” said Vail. “You go uptown [Waterloo], and it is so brightly lit, and it’s great.”


Watson takes umbrage with the sleepy downtown stigma — she’s adamant there are options for nightlife throughout the week.

When it comes to setting business hours, the pandemic has taken its toll and made it more difficult for managers to schedule later hours, with patron traffic dwindling.

“If we’re open ‘til midnight, obviously we want to see people until midnight, and pushing that to 2 a.m. now is not feasible at the moment because it’s so quiet,” said Watson. “This year will really determine what happens with a lot of businesses about whether or not we extend our hours … because this is the first year where we’re 100 per cent open.”

However, Vail said the “closed at 10 p.m.” mantra isn’t entirely misplaced.

“It’s changing, but there is some truth to that,” said Vail.

It’s a classic ‘chicken or the egg’ scenario.

Are people not coming downtown because businesses aren’t open late enough, or are businesses not open late because people aren’t coming downtown?

If you ask Vail, there is more onus on business owners to be bold.

“If you build it, they will come because there’s no reason for them to come first,” said Vail.


When it comes to the question of a ‘night mayor’ as a benefit to the core, Watson is intrigued, but believes there are BIA initiatives that can be more helpful and suggests bringing back an advisory panel of downtown business owners to help suggest ways to improve the downtown experience.

“I’m excited about the idea of that potentially in the future, but I think that there [are] several other options that would probably more supportive,” said Watson. “A night panel [or] a night council!”

Watson said there were ten previous sessions pre-pandemic and hopes to see something similar return.

While Kitchener city councillor Scott Davey suggested he would be “throwing [his] hat in the ring” in jest for the non-existent position of night mayor of Kitchener — that idea has sparked some renewed discussion about how to help downtown Kitchener bounce back in its pandemic recovery. Top Stories

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