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New Ramp Sparks Conversations About Accessibility In Uptown Saint John

Backstreet Records owner Gordie Tufts with Tim Moxam outside the store. Image: Submitted

SAINT JOHN- An uptown Saint John record store is more accessible thanks to a touring musician who also happens to be a trained carpenter.

Tim Moxam, a musician and carpenter from Ontario, has partnered with the StopGap Foundation to launch the “StopGap On Tour” initiative.

StopGap is a Canadian charity raising awareness about the importance of accessibility, inclusion and a barrier-free society. Through its Community Ramp Project, businesses with single-stepped entryways receive a custom-built access ramp, drawing attention to the issue of accessibility, while at the same time creating an entryway that everyone can access.

With the “StopGap On Tour,” a series of special edition ramps are being built to accommodate the needs of non-accessible venues, cafes, record stores or other musical/cultural community hubs in Canada. During a tour, participating artists will transport the completed ramps to their respective venues. Other artists participating in the project include Broken Social Scene’s Jason Collett, and Kate Rogers.

Moxam presented Backstreet Records, located at 124 Germain Street in uptown Saint John, with one of those special edition ramps last week.

The StopGap ramp outside Backstreet Records. Image: Submitted.

“It’s the idea of universal accessibility, but also creating a conversation around the idea of accessibility for all,” said Moxam, who got involved with StopGap to use his love of music and carpentry to help a good cause.

Moxam has been handing out his StopGap ramps during his tour of Eastern Canada. The idea to give one to Backstreet Records came from Dave Love, a local record collector and owner of The Cottage, a music venue on the Kingston Peninsula where Moxam was performing.

“When we booked Tim at the cottage he asked me if we needed the ramp. I said we already had one and we’re fully accessible. Then he asked if I knew of somewhere else that needed one,” said Love, who has MS and uses a wheelchair. “I thought of Backstreet. I go there, I sell tickets for the shows there and I hang out there. It seemed like a perfect solution. If I didn’t need a ramp, that’s the first place that came to mind that did need a ramp.”

Love put Moxam in touch with Backstreet Record’s owner Gordie Tufts and a bright red StopGap ramp was dropped off last Thursday. The ramp is able to service both Backstreet and the Quality Block Barbour Shop next door.

Once I saw the pictures with the ramp in place it made me feel so good,” said Love. “I’m sure it’ll get used by so many people – delivery guys, parents with strollers and maybe people that haven’t been inside Backstreet for years. I know it’s going to make my trips there so much easier.”

Love also thinks the ramp will help start a bigger conversation around accessibility in uptown Saint John.

“People will see it and be talking about it for sure,” he said. “It looks really good out front and I’d love to see a few more on the street.”

Backstreet Records is far from unique when it comes to having a single-step entrance. A lot of other businesses uptown have them, and it’s something that’s common across North America in historic city centers. But without some sort of ramp, it leaves a lot of people out.

“We’ve had a few people calling saying, ‘hey, we see more happening uptown. We want to get uptown, but we’re a little nervous about where we can go and get a brew or where we can shop’ and the accessibility for washrooms as well,” said Nancy Tissington, executive director of Uptown Saint John, the business improvement association representing businesses in the area.

Uptown Saint John conducted an accessibility study in the spring to get an idea of exactly how many businesses uptown were accessible or have taken initiatives to become so. The results, Tissington said, were “grim.”

“There’s not a lot of [accessibility]. You have to be strategic. There’s not even a lot of mobile [ramps] where you can put them out if somebody called ahead. We even tried to identify those who would have that,” she said. “Our small case study really opened my eyes that there really isn’t a lot. Even our streets alone could prove to be challenging. I’m just talking about wheelchair [accessibility] at this point.”

Yet becoming accessible, even getting a mobile ramp, can be a big cost for a small businesses. Tissington says Uptown Saint John is working on putting together resources for small businesses to help with that. This will include grants and partnerships with organizations like StopGap and local woodworking shops.

The organization has seen an increase in commercial activity over the last five years. As the city center continues to grow, Tissington says accessibility will become a more important issue.

“In other cities there’s been a lot of [conversation] about how do we make our cities more accessible and more diverse,” she said. “We really need to get into the sandbox and really start looking forward to this because this is something that’s become more apparent, that uptown is becoming a hub for a lot of our cultural events and we just want to make it for everyone.”