The recent closures of Mulvaney’s Pub and New Leaf Cafe in Burns Lake has had some members of the local business community concerned about its impact on the community.
“Every time a business closes, I think a business owner feels threatened and concerned,” said Kelly Holliday, owner of Aksenz Studios and village councillor. “The less businesses that we do have, it will mean less traffic stopping in our town.”
“When you look at how many businesses have opened in the past five years, there were very few, so every time we lose one, will it take five years for another one to come back in its place?”
Wayne Brown, Owner of Process 4 Circle Arts Gallery in Burns Lake, agrees that having less businesses in town hurts the local economy.
“I feel bad for the whole community, not just the merchants, our citizens keep saying there’s nothing here, we have to go out of town, so it hurts all of us in retail,” he said. “You can’t ask the community to support us more if we don’t have more to give them.”
“It’s very simple – the more we have to offer, the more the community will shop locally,” he added.
Brown believes that the best way for the Burns Lake business community to thrive is by attracting new businesses to town.
“The more businesses we have in this town, the better it is for our own businesses,” he said. “Otherwise, people driving through here will say, ‘There’s nothing here, let’s go to the next town.’”
For Holliday, however, the answer lies in more community support.
“I am probably attracting 10 per cent of the consumers that could potentially shop in my store,” she said. “I am sure I can speak on behalf of most other independent business owners in the community; if we only got another 10 per cent of local people we would double our sales.”
“Our stores would be vibrant, we could afford to hire summer students who are currently desperately looking for work and there are very few opportunities out there because independent businesses just can’t afford to hire them,” she continued. “We could bring in more stock, more selection, we’re only asking for 10 per cent.”
“People are tired of hearing the logo ‘support local businesses and shop local,’ but it is imperative to the vibrancy and the sustainability of our future,” she added.
Holliday also believes that Burns Lake needs to reinvent itself.
“If we want to grow more tourism and more residents, and we want to attract doctors and teachers and professionals, we need to have a service economy that helps fulfill the needs of the people that are moving here.”
“It’s a snowball effect – we have no work for summer students, we have less money to donate, less businesses to shop, we force more people out of town, it’s becoming a bigger problem than we realize,” she continued.
“I fear for the day that people stand at Town Pantry and Home Hardware and look both ways at all the bordered up businesses and say to themselves, ‘What happened?’”
“And then it’s too late.”
Seven new business licences issued this year
According to Burns Lake’s economic development officer Val Anderson, although Burns Lake had two recent closures, the village issued seven new business licences between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2017.
“This indicates a level of confidence in the business community,” said Anderson. “If you look at the downtown core, we have less empty storefronts than we had a few years ago, and when the Tweedsmuir Hotel opens, the downtown will become an even more vibrant place.”
“It is always a concern when a business closes,” she continued. “However, the storefront or building is still a community asset and available to another entrepreneur.”
Anderson said that although the municipality cannot assist individual businesses directly, it can provide support through programs such as the ‘Love Burns Lake’ website and Facebook page, the facade improvement program and capacity building training.
“Over the next year to eighteen months, the village will be providing seminars to build the skillset of business owners, employees and the non-profit sector,” said Anderson. “The village will seek partnerships with local organizations to ensure effective and efficient use of resources.”
The Village of Burns Lake has recently secured over $115,000 to develop a project intended to diversify the local economy. The project includes a community engagement component.
“We encourage business owners and residents to become involved as it rolls out over the next month,” she said. “At no other time in recent history has it been so important that we work together to mitigate the economic effect of the annual allowable cut reduction.”
Randi Amendt, acting manager of the Burns Lake and District Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has been supporting local businesses with programs such as the gift certificate program, which was launched in 2015. Since the launch, over $94,000 has been kept in the community.