Signs of the times?

By David F. Rooney

Signs of the times? Recent closures may be just that or just the downside of the normal business cycle. David F. Rooney photo illustration

Here’s a partial list of The Roll of Our Dead, Dying or Troubled Businesses: Fields, Filigree Antiques, Dollar Dollar, Jus Juiced, The Roxy and Video Express. But there will certainly be more in the months to come.

A lot of people have been commenting privately about empty storefronts in prime locations and the apparently stagnant business community.

Is it real? Or does it just seem stagnant?

A cursory glance at the City’s monthly business license summary shows that, as of February 29, the number of active business licenses was 907, down from 920 on January 31. At the same time in 2011 there were 885 at the end of February, down from 895 at the end of January.

Alan Mason, director of Community Economic Development for the City of Revelstoke, said the business license summaries “are probably artificially high” because of the number of out-of-town contractors who temporarily set up shop here to work on the high school and elementary schools, Revelstoke Dam’s Unit 5 and Mica’s Units 5 and 6.

“But I think what concerns most people are the number of retail stores that have disappeared from high-visibility locations,” he said.

Mason’s correct. That is what alarms some people in town.

“It doesn’t look good,” he said in an interview Monday. “But you really have to look at each business on a case-by-case basis and analyze what happened to them.”

Let’s look at a few of the businesses named in the first paragraph. Fields is closing because its owner — HBC Inc. — is closing all Fields stores across the country. Jus Juiced closed because the family that owns the building wouldn’t renew their rental agreement; the owners are opening their own breakfast café instead. The Roxy and Video Express have not closed but are both the victims of changing social habits and the expanding power and reach of download media sites. Video Express would like to lease part of its premises and there have for several months been fears that The Roxy could close if attendance doesn’t increase.

Mason said retail ventures across Canada and, indeed, the world are under a lot of pressure — much of it technological.

“I saw on BBC currently some small towns in the UK have lost 60 % of their retail stores to online sales,” he said. “That’s not a big deal to small-town consumers in the UK where nothing is very far away from anything else. If a business closes in your village or town you can drive to another in 20 minutes or so. But it’s a different story here where you have to drive two hours to get to the next town.”

Out-of-town shopping is another facet of the problem. A lot of people regard family excursions to Salmon Arm, Vernon or Kelowna as an opportunity to go shopping. And, while a number of merchants say they can bring in anything you can get outside of town, they’re not advertising the fact. They appear to think that because they are the only game in town, locally, they don’t need to advertise or they still think that flyers get the job done when all they do is clog the big bins at the post office.

Part of the public’s anxiety may be due to a widely held fantasy.

“People always look for that Magic Bullet — a major company setting up shop here,” he said. “But that’s not going to happen.”

What will likely happen is that different people will eventually occupy empty our community’s empty retail spaces. It may take a while but eventually it will happen.