EDMONTON -- With most businesses forced to close under a state of public health emergency, some storefronts in downtown Edmonton and Old Strathcona have decided to board up.

“As businesses started to close there was a little bit of vandalism,” Old Strathcona Businesses Association executive director Cherie Klassen said. “So a couple of businesses decided to board up just to prevent anything further.”

Both the Old Strathcona and Downtown Business associations say Edmonton Police Service is reporting lower crime rates in those areas than usual since public health orders were put in place.

“Principally [it’s] because people are not in the area," said Edmonton Downtown Business Association executive director Ian O’Donnell.

In Old Strathcona, Klassen said some are under the impression the area is unsafe. She hopes to dispel that narrative.

“People should not be afraid to walk around Whyte Avenue and Old Strathcona area, it’s very safe right now,” she said. “In fact, the more people that are safely at a distance walking around the area the better it is for safety.”

So now, the Old Strathcona Business Association is looking to turn eyesores into canvases in conjunction with the Whyte Avenue Artwalk committee, which recently announced its festival’s cancellation.

“I think if we can get it filled with art, then yes, I think it would be a good proactive measure,” Klassen said. “To help [with] some those issues and make the area feel safer and feel more welcoming.”

O’Donnell believes it could be a much need lift for artists who may be struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It could be a little bit of employment, a little cash flow for the artists," he said.

Both he and Klassen say their associations are gauging the interest of owners whose businesses are boarded up to see if they are willing to let local artists brighten up the neighbourhoods.