Revelstoke — the “land of coffee shops and hair salons?”

John Devitt

Sitting at a local coffee shop this week, I found myself thinking about business diversity in Revelstoke.  Why did I choose to have my coffee here?  Was it its relative peace and quiet, but vibrant ambience?  I realized it was an odd thought to have over morning coffee, but as I had walked into town, I was, again struck by the vast number of empty storefronts.  As I considered what was filling the other commercial spaces, it becomes clear that Revelstoke residents really embrace their caffeine addiction in order to financially support the half dozen coffee shops that are in the downtown core alone!

However, the coffee shop argument is the easy one to point a finger to, but they are not the only businesses saturating Revelstoke.  Between home-based and storefront businesses there are 20 different salons or barbers.  How many massage therapists, estheticians or ski/board shops were there at last count?

The fact of the matter is that Revelstoke seems to be inundated with non-distinct businesses.  That’s not to say that these businesses are not worthy of existence.  This is the reality of a free market, capitalist economy.  Anyone with a great idea can get a business license and begin earning a living.  Consumers can then “vote” with their dollars.  Whether that vote is given for product selection, great customer service, or just the overall experience, is up to you.  However, is there enough demand in Revelstoke to support so many similar businesses?

The question I hear from business owners is whether or not the City of Revelstoke should have a hand in regulating the type of businesses to operate in Revelstoke.  I can recall a conversation with a local entrepreneur a couple years ago, where he wanted the City to control how many of his business type could open on the same street.  His motives did not appear to have the best interests of the community in mind, but provoked by personal gain and perceived competitive threats he felt on his business.  Ultimately, this competition forced him to reinvent and rejuvenate his business model.  This is a great example of why competition is important and why business need not be regulated.

However, what about businesses who may not be operating legally?  If someone is cutting your hair, they must carry liability insurance in case say, they cut your ear off.  Businesses must provide proof of this insurance when applying for a business license.  Ultimately, a legal business will not just be paying insurance, but also taxes, WCB premiums for employees, and more.  Is it fair that someone offering landscape services on the Stoke List can undercut a legitimate business?  Should we even assume this business is operating illegally just because we’ve never heard of them before, but we have heard of their other 50 competitors?

Speaking to some of the owners affiliated with businesses I’ve mentioned, they all say the same thing; the Revelstoke pie is small.  Multiple businesses of a similar type split that pie into smaller and smaller pieces.  It would be easy to say they are merely expressing a “not in my backyard” attitude, a familiar one in Revelstoke, now that they have developed and established businesses.  Why should someone new offering a different experience not be allowed to open a business?  The short answer is because it can weaken the community.  If the city can regulate how many liquor licenses it provides in the interest of community health, why not regulate business types for the same reason?

The sentiment is not just limited to business owners, but extends to customers.  More than once this season I’ve heard visitors to town joke about Revelstoke being the land of coffee shops and hair salons.  We used to market ourselves on the diversity of the Revelstoke shopping experience, but is this still an authentic promise to our guests and to our residents?  Have high commercial taxes and a recession whittled the pool of successful business startups to the types already mentioned?

So what can, or should be done about this?  With the multitude of consultants and plans coming from the City of Revelstoke, is the time right to draft the Economic Development Plan?  Should the City of Revelstoke be examining the location of businesses when granting licenses?  Should this be a proactive element to a forward thinking Economic Development Plan that includes issues such as commercial taxation and business development incentives?  Will our new Council embrace political strategist James Carville’s famous words, “It’s the economy, stupid?” to better our community?