by John Carswell, Brentwood Bay Village Emporium –
It’s been more than 50 years since the appearance of shopping malls, and then big box stores, triggered a steady migration of businesses from outlying communities to larger urban centres. Empty storefronts are visible evidence of this, but only recently has it become general knowledge that small business still accounts for two-thirds of all employment. Recent studies also reveal that small business plays a significant role in supporting and sustaining the social fabric of our communities. Local amenities – including goods and services – contribute to both the environmental and physical health of a place and the people who live there. A walkable community means a decrease in CO2 emissions and a more fit population. But beyond this, small businesses can also promote social connections and relationships, because people are often connected to quality places that are cultural and distinctive.
Inspired by this knowledge and armed with research conducted on our neighbourhood streets, my wife and business partner Alice Bacon and I set about to create Brentwood Bay Village Empourium. We knew the survival rate for startup business is grim: half will fail within the first five years. What we didn’t know were the variety of ways in which we would be challenged, nor the relentlessness of those challenges.
Small towns mean limited availability of suitable commercial space, yet rents are often on par with those of neighbouring cities. It takes time, money and ingenuity to navigate through the maze of zoning bylaws, building codes and compliance issues. Regulatory requirements do not necessarily scale to meet the resources of a small business. Operating a seven-days-a-week food and beverage business requires enough staff to warrant an entire HR/payroll department. Marketing and promoting a new business in the 21st century requires every means possible: conventional advertising alone will not reach the entire community. Digital signage, social media and email campaigns are also essential.
The sheer volume of issues, regulations, needs and demands can make it difficult to find the time to work on the business instead of in the business. The elusive work/life “balance” simply ceases to exist: it’s all one and the same. At some point one wonders why anyone would willingly take on such a challenge. Certainly if financial prosperity and security are the primary goal, there are less stressful and risky avenues to pursue.
Happily, there is an upside and we’ve found it where we always knew it would be: community. There are reasons we live so close to each other that have nothing to do with the price of real estate and everything to do with the simple fact that we need each other. Working in our own neighbourhood, we see this clearly and in many different ways each day: the condo dwellers getting to know their neighbours; the retirees whose friends and families are scattered across the continent; the young moms looking for a little “adult” time; the high school students needing a place to socialize. The health of a community is tied to the well-being of its residents. In this respect, local businesses can and do play a vital role. After all, happier customers make for happier neighbours and when people feel good about where they live, we all benefit.