Tuesday 9 March 2010

Big box stores are ruining small towns

The Strategic Vision in the official plan states that Muskoka will create “land use designations, and environmental and infrastructure policies to help ensure the long-term economic, social and environmental health of Muskoka.

Business owners depend upon the winter sledders, as well as the summer tourists. In small towns in Muskoka, the rents are as high as some locales in Toronto.

MWT White
You can read the discussion in Bracebridge:
"Deputy mayor Steve Clement recently expressed concern about the state of the downtown. Clement noted that several stores have closed in town in recent months. He wondered if rents are too high for some business owners.
Coates feels Bracebridge is mainly a business-friendly town and believes these storefronts will fill up soon."

For business owners who rent, they are paying Toronto prices, for a two-month, perhaps a 3-month season.  If they pay high rents, and have tourists in only the summer months, it makes sense that many businesses are going under. The shoulder seasons (June/September), are difficult seasons, bracketing summer as they do. While the tourists go home, seniors on fixed incomes have to watch their pennies.

To illustrate the issues around the big box stores...
Olives, for example, at Sobey's are 25 - 35% cheaper, because they get a bulk discount.
For a small business owner, like our friend Beth Ann, her markup is only equal to the net costs of Sobey's and she ends up making no profit. Beth Ann, I am sad to say, is letting go of her lease. She cannot afford to pay the prices her landlord charges, despite a booming business in the hot summer.

We love her store, with the yummy fudge, and her wonderful spirit.
But she cannot keep this up.
We make it our policy to support local businesses. It is important to us. But this isn't the case for those from the city.
Many stores are for rent in Bala, and stores have shut in Gravenhurst and Port Carling -many remain empty, or change hands many times. It takes an astute business owner to manage with a two-season business.

You have to make a mighty good dollar in this economy, and in a seasonal place like Muskoka it is difficult.

 Gravenhurst has been busily putting in Big Box stores; at the expense of smaller family-run businesses, but I cannot see that this is good for any of us. I enjoy shopping in smaller family stores, where people go out of their way to help us.
Do we need a big box hardware store, with its lights on all night?

It is the same, then, in a bigger place like Bracebridge, and it is a shame. Many shut down their businesses in the deep winter. Several eateries in Bala close by 3 p.m., since the contractors are on their way home and they provide most of their clientele.
The restaurants find it difficult keeping staff. There aren't places for them to live in summer. I am not sure the answer to this, except for landlords to understand the economy. The new mall in Gravenhurst is daunting. If I wanted a big box store...well, I don't! I spent a lifetime living in Toronto, and another in Ottawa.
I'd rather see Cottage Rose, than the Big Box LCBO!

Bracebridge has a lovely character.
Gravenhurst is changing.  Bleak skies, indeed.


Joe Todd said...

I'm afraid the bid box stores are here to stay at the expense of smaller establishments. I just got a surprise email from some old friends on Little Penage near Sudbury. They had viewed my youtube video of Lake Penage and figured out who I was.. Haven't seen or talked to them in 20 years. Love the internet and the "connections". Your header photo looks just like the north shore of penage as you leave the landing.. Have a great week

Anonymous said...

Very sad, Jenn. This is happening all over Ontario, I fear. I hate to see the big box stores move in. but they are powerful and seem to always win. Even if a community fights it at first, they usually give in.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Jenn: We have the same thing in the states with big stores like Wal-Mart taking most of the business.

Carolyn said...

My heart goes out to you and your community. Big box stores will be the death of communities as we know them unless we say no to them. While in Picton last year there was a fight going on about allowing a big box store to go in in downtown Picton, which has a quaint main street...heritage homes had been slated for destruction so it could go in. A campaign was started and the project was halted. The main thing that stuck out for me was that it was being built for "the tourists".
I too believe in shopping local and know that it is the only way we will keep the businesses on Haida Gwaii open. I remember arriving on the islands in 1999 and doing my first grocery shopping and thinking I would never survive(i.e. bananas were .19 lb in London, ON and 1.69 lb in Queen Charlotte City, ouch!). The difference is that you buy what you need, not what you want which is what the big box stores and corner stores count on and you don't waste.
As we worked on a Heritage Tourism Strategy for the islands one of the things the facilitator reminded us to do "everyday" was to remember why we live where we live. The minute you forget that is when roads are widened and big box stores move in. If your community does not have a unified vision the big guys come in and divide and conquer.
Change is inevitable but it does not have to destroy.
Enjoy the beautiful weather.
Blessings and smiles

Sylvia K said...

I'm afraid I have to agree with the others -- that the box stores are here to stay. And that's a sad thing for all of our worlds. We still have some of the small, privately owned stores -- more here than I saw in Portland, but they are still dropping away one or two at a time.
Great post, Jenn!


Rajesh said...

Nice post. It is the same story everywhere. Due to big players in the market smaller local players are going out of business.

LadyFi said...

What a terrible shame that this wonderful small shops are going out of business. Soon there won't be any shops with soul left!

Glennis said...

I think these kind of changes are happening all over the world, big is supposedly better, but the real better is the diversity of many small unique things , but this is just my opinion.
Sad that such change seem inevitable.

SandyCarlson said...

We are all getting squeezed by the company store, a wolf in sheep's clothing. Scary. Your personal illustration drives this home.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Great post. I don't know the answer. What the big box store giveth, they can take away. We avoid them whenever we can.

Will Morton said...

From a planning perspective, I am shocked that these municipalities approved the riocan development in Gravenhurst. Sure, a 40,000sf Canadian Tire creates jobs but at what cost? Economies in towns like Gravenhust, Bala and Port Carling are driven by small business. Although when driving through Bala, it is quite clear that landlords need to reconsider what they are charging for commercial rent.

Jenn Jilks said...

I agree, the big box stores are here for the duration. We have no choice with, for example, LCBO, I try to avoid them, too, Yogi.

Yes, Will. Small towns are driven by small stores. If you need a wide range of products, you'll save up your shopping list for a big drive into town (saving gas). I'm not sure the answer, except for municipalities to keep on it. Having a vision for your town in crucial.
Stratford kept out Cheap-Mart, for example. (I think it was Stratford! - which has a lovely feeling to the town.)

Nancy Tapley said...

Lake of Bays is struggling with the 2010 budget. Right now, it's hovering at 12%, on top of an average 8% increase in assessment. The District Councillor from the Baysville area tells me that this is "chump change" and since it is a privilege to live here, we should just suck it up and pay the big increase. That all it really does is increase the re-sale value of the properties because more services are offered. My concern is that this thinking leads to communities where ONLY the very priveleged can afford to live, and that the people are then there because they are Invested in the Investment, rather than Invested in the Community. Monster cottages used only for seasonal playgrounds, and property being channeled through the "quick flip" developers for profit, while the year round residents who make the place tick, who are mostly on low incomes, or pensions, or seaonal work in tourism, can't afford to carry on.
And then you have to wonder how many of the Monster Cottage Millionaires really shop at Wal-Mart...

Johnny Nutcase said...

Good post, addresses so much that more people need top be aware of. Big Box stores are no good :( My hometown used to have a lot of character and greenspace and now i get sad going back because it's just like every other town, it's depressing.

Luckily, where we live right now has very few big box stores. Local business is strongly supported here, more so than probably 98 percent of places in the US. It's really nice. There are very few chain stores and tons of great little places. Luckily, they do well here, but most other places that's not the case.

Unknown said...

I have been saying this about the big box stores for years. They are not even Canadian owned, which makes it even worse. But a lot of my friends continue to shop there because they can get a deal. Short term gain is what I call it. It's essentially undermining our economy.