There were highs, lows and an historic challenge thrown at Dr. Salima Ismail, but she is thankful for the eight years she served as Chair of the Manotick BIA.
Ismail finished her second and final turn as the BIA Chair last month. During her time as Chair, she saw Manotick’s events grow and flourish, and she saw the community rally and support the business community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Looking back over the last two or three years, it’s incredible that Manotick lost only one business due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
Dr. Ismail is the owner and operator of Manotick Chiromax. She had been the President of the Rideau Chamber of Commerce. When she became the Chair of the Manotick BIA in 2014, she said there was a learning curve.
“There was a lot to learn,” she said. “It took a couple years. There was a lot of back and forth with the city – what we can do and what we can’t do – and what the role of the Chair was.”
One of the directions that the BIA went in during those eight years was to become very event-driven. The strategy of the board was to attract local shoppers and visitors alike to experience everything that the Manotick business community had to offer, from shops and restaurants to services to other amenities and attractions. While the Manotick BIA focused on five different major events each year, A Taste of Manotick emerged as a late summer showcase for everything the village had to offer.
“Focusing on events was very intentional,” she said. “We wanted to put feet on the street, and events were the best way to do that.
Rock the Dock
Ismail said that in eight years, she attended every BIA event in the village. She wanted to experience the events first hand, and she loved to see them get better and better over the years.
“I think my favourite day was when we had A Taste of Manotick and the official opening of the dock on the same day,” she said. “I remember the boats playing music and coming in to ‘rock the dock!’”
Seeing the Mahogany Dock project completed was the highlight of Ismail’s tenure as BIA Chair.
“The dock project was the white elephant in Manotick for what seemed like forever,” Ismail said. “I remember a conversation I had with Ken Gordon and he told me that the idea for a dock had been talked about since 1965. I was really excited one day when Anne Robinson came and said, ‘let’s get your support, let’s get this going!’ We were raising money for the project through events like Chick Time in the ‘Tick. It was really exciting to be a part of it, and it was exciting to see it through and be a part of the opening ceremonies.”
The dock was officially launched Sat., Aug. 17, 2019 just before the start of the BIA’s A Taste of Manotick promotion in the village.
The Mahogany Dock Initiative was imagined in 1995 through an extensive community visioning exercise. The journey since then was not without its challenges. It’s goal was that both local residents and visitors would come to appreciate and enjoy the amenities at the new Mahogany Harbour Landing and its many benefits for the Village.
“Soon after the dock was completed, COVId-19 hit,” Ismail said. “People were not able to travel. It was incredible how many people were boating and swimming. People along the water would keep their lights on for kayakers at night. The red chairs became popular – there was even a Red Chair Society that formed. It’s amazing what spawned off of one thing.”
While communities throughout Canada and urban downtowns like Ottawa were seeing 20 to 30 per cent of the businesses shutting their doors for good during COVID, Manotick had one of the most remarkable demonstrations of resilience in any business community in Canada.
Lillian’s, a Manotick hair dressing business, was the only business in the village that succumbed to COVID. In fact, Manotick has lost more businesses due to fire in the past few years than it did to COVID.
“Not only did we only lose one business, but we also had several businesses that opened during COVID,” Ismail said. “There is almost zero per cent vacancy for businesses that want to open in the village.”
During the pandemic, both the BIA and the Manotick Messenger focused their efforts on promoting a shop local message. While that message had marginal success in some communities, the residents of Manotick and the area were all in when it came to the message.
“The fact that the business community actually grew during COVID says a lot about Manotick,” Ismail said. “It says a lot about the strength of the business community, and it also says a lot about the people in Manotick. The community really rallied and embraced the shop local message. The support from the community really helped a lot of businesses survive something that was devastating to businesses in other communities.”
While looking back at 2020 and 2021 can be seen as a victory for the Manotick BIA and the business community, it was not an easy time. Many businesses are still rebounding from the difficult times caused by lockdowns and a change in consumer shopping habits.
“The BIA did what we could to help local businesses through that time,” Ismail said. “There awas a lot of anxiety and panic. We had no idea how long the pandemic and the sanctions would last. There was an incredible amount of stress.”
Ismail said that COVID actually introduced local residents to some of the businesses and services in Manotick. With so many people suddenly working from home, local businesses had a stronger daytime customer base.
“The community really stepped up to support local,” she said. “They helped every single business in Manotick. We made sure we highlighted how important it was to shop local and support the community. Some residents did not realize what we had in Manotick and were introduced to some of our businesses for the first time.”
Salima said she is happy to have served as BIA Chair for two terms and said it was a rewarding experience.
“Eight years is a long time to be in a leadership role,” she said. “Two terms was good. My personal goal was to have everyone I dealt with to know about Manotick and what we have in the village.
“It’s on everybody to do community service at some level,” she added. “Everybody should volunteer at some point. It’s a very rewarding way to be a part of the community.”