Wayne Brown, Owner of Process 4 circle arts Gallery in Burns Lake, has had his shop on the corner of Hwy. 16 and Third Avenue for almost 40 years.
Brown says sales were much better about 30 years ago. He says part of the reason is that Burns Lake used to have a more vibrant downtown core.
“When I started the business in 1977, there wasn’t a mall, it was just the downtown core,” he said. “There were retail stores everywhere; whatever you wanted we had it.”
Brown says he has also had to deal with the issue of parking. Until four years ago, he had parking spaces right in front of his shop.
The parking spaces have since been removed, which has directly affected his sales.
“Sales dropped 30 per cent after the parking was removed,” he said. “We depend on people’s convenience.”
Brown, who used to work for the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario, said that parking is vital for retailers.
“If you increase parking in a community, you will increase the retail sales.”
He added that the village’s new RV parking next to his shop wasn’t enough to address the issue of parking in the downtown core.
With reasonable gas prices, and Prince George being so close, Burns Lake residents started going to Prince George more often for shopping in the past few years, he said. In addition, online shopping has presented another challenge to local shoppers.
“This [all these factors] kill a small retail,” he said. “Shops like mine will not exist [here] in five to 10 years.”
Brown said the village should be doing more to encourage businesses to move to the highway corridor.
“They [the village] need to get rid of office type stores that are on the main drag,” he said.
Brown also said that home-based businesses should receive incentives to move to the empty spaces on the highway corridor.
Krystin St. Jean, Economic Development Officer for the Village of Burns Lake, said that although the idea of moving businesses to the highway corridor has been discussed, there are currently no plans to address that.
“There are currently no specific actions related to this particular issue,” she said. However, she said actions on the village’s new economic development plan could potentially encourage local businesses to open storefronts along Hwy. 16.
In regard to the issue of parking, St. Jean said that there are currently no plans to increase parking on Hwy. 16. She explained that the downtown design was developed with the downtown revitalization committee and approved by council and the Ministry of Transportation in 2012.
“The removal of some of the on-street parking was to increase site line safety and accommodate such safety provisions as the installation of left hand turn lanes,” said St. Jean. “In addition to the removal of the on-street parking, parking was increased in some areas by using recycled asphalt to develop some of those areas.”
Burns Lake residents’ habit of shopping out of town
Kelly Holliday, owner of Aksenz Studios in Burns Lake, said the majority of her customers come from out of town.
“There are weeks that go by that my entire sales comprise of customers from Smithers, Houston, Fraser Lake, Fort St. James and Prince George,” she said. “A week can go by that I don’t see a single local shopper.”
Holliday has owned her boutique store for women’s clothing for seven years. About three years ago, she opened a second store on Hwy. 16.
The store only lasted a year.
Holliday said that Burns Lake not only needs to attract more businesses to the highway corridor, but it also needs to attract more businesses in general.
“I’d love to see more stores at the mall too; I think we need to fill up the entire town with stores,” she said. “The more businesses we can have in Burns Lake, the more people can stay home and shop.”
Holliday said the village needs to reach out to chambers of commerce in other parts of the province to promote the Lake District and attract more businesses.
“We need to approach businesses and say, ‘Here’s a community with affordable mortgage prices, very little competition, it’s your opportunity to have a business on Hwy. 16 where there’s lots of traffic.’”
Burns Lake residents’ habit of shopping out of town, in addition to the Internet, has made having a business in Burns Lake much more challenging, she said. Holiday said the habit of shopping out of town won’t change unless customers start supporting local businesses.
“I truly believe nothing in this community is going to change until the general public changes their way of thinking,” she said.
Holliday said Burns Lake also needs to do a better job promoting its gift certificate program. In November 2015, the Burns Lake and District Chamber of Commerce launched its local gift certificate program, which allows consumers to purchase gift certificates from the chamber of commerce and redeem them at dozens of participating local retailers.
Holliday said visitors and local will be more encouraged to shop in Burns Lake if the village is able to attract more businesses to town.
“The public is looking for quaint, unique towns that have funky business boutique, coffee house atmospheres to offer,” she said. “If we had enough of that, people would stop and walk, and our local community would also come downtown to shop and walk.”
Holliday added that there’s lots of opportunity in Burns Lake.
“We just need to utilize it,” she said.