I had the recent pleasure of participating in the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Business Walk and more recently in handing our Certificates of Congratulation to three recently opened businesses. Both experiences were heart-warming and eye-opening. Thank you to those who took the time from a busy commercial enterprise to answer questions and pose with the Mayor.
The two experiences gave me a renewed perspective on business life in Chetwynd. Not that I am totally unfamiliar, but it has been several years since my wife sold her retail store and retired after eighteen years in business – which makes my close personal experience a little dated.
That said, things have not changed a whole lot in the last three or four years.
Competition from the bigger and “more exciting” centres still makes retailing challenging in home-town Chetwynd. Some of the bigger, out-of-town merchants, to be unnamed, can sell with a profit at prices that small-town merchants have to pay for their stock. So small-town merchants are not out to gouge you; they are simply trying to pay for their stock, rent, taxes, wages, and someday make a profit while providing a much-needed home-town service. So, let’s give them a break!
Another challenge is in the labour market. Good help is hard to find and, once found is hard to keep. This means that the owners sometimes have to put in hours that the Labour Relations Board would rule unacceptable if it was the hired help doing the hours. Merchants find themselves having to import workers from neighbouring cities. Let’s give them a break.
I remember; I remember. Still I enjoyed the odd time my wife let me work in her store.
I’ll share with you an incident: A young man saunters up to the counter where I am on rare customer service duty. “You got anything for stretch marks?” And he rolls up some fabric to display a muscular shoulder where the slightest ripple in the skin is visible if the imagination is active. “You worried about that?” I can’t restrain my expression of surprise and astonishment. I should be fired (but workers are hard to find and to keep). “What will you do when you get these?” And I screw up my face to accentuate seven decades of exposure to wind, sun, sleet, hail, snow, stress, and time. The young man answers in two syllables: “Botox.”
When the revenues are not robust, it is incidents such as this that make life at the till so exciting.
And so we welcome new businesses to town and applaud their confidence and trust in the future while we hope that the good folks will help them survive and thrive. It is challenging and fun. In fact, the challenge is a big part of the satisfaction one derives from pushing one’s limits, testing one’s capacity. But challenge and fun don’t pay the bills. That takes revenue.
So I appeal to the folks of our home town to give our merchants a break. Yes, there may be cheaper prices and brighter lights and greater variety in unnamed cities. But we live here and we want our home-town merchants to thrive.
By the way, unless you walk out into the unknown, there is not much chance of making a profound difference in anything.
Merlin Nichols - Mayor of Chetwynd