by Lara Gladych –
Seaside Magazine wants to live up to our slogan of being “the voice of the Saanich Peninsula,” so, in every issue, we ask people to answer a question. We’re looking for responses from all ages and across the diverse neighbourhoods that form our community.
Walk down the main street in your neighbourhood on the Saanich Peninsula, and you’ll likely notice several retail spaces sitting vacant. In Sidney, you may have also noticed the “Start Up In Sidney” campaign banners decorating empty storefront windows – an effort by the Sidney BIA to attract new businesses to our fabulous little town. Each of these vacant spaces screams opportunity for the right person with the right idea, if you frame it the right way.
I often spend time contemplating what new additions would both complement and add to our current retail and eatery selection, and as such, I thought I’d ask Peninsula locals their thoughts on the subject. At the heart of my interviews was an attempt to provoke some discussion about what might be missing from what our neighbourhoods currently offer, and what would excite people in terms of invigorating our main streets.
People had a lot to say on this subject. The sadness at seeing several long-loved local shops close was apparent. Many respondents couldn’t think beyond their disappointment that some of their favourite businesses were no longer open, but on the flip side, there were some very interesting and divergent answers about what people could envision in terms of filling voids in our current retail environment.
“Well, a very practical [business] would be a place where you can take electrical things and have them repaired. I mean, what do you do when in this day and age so many things are just throw-away? It would be electrical and electronics.” This is Helen, 83.
Mike and Kenda, 29 and 28, say that they are happy to have the Canadian Tire here now, but that overall they prefer the smaller store-fronts rather than big box stores. They hate to see small, independent stores going out of business.
Alun, 59, owns Melinda’s Biscotti, a thriving Saanich Peninsula business. He had many thoughts to share with me. First and foremost, he sees what is essentially an identity crisis in Sidney: confusion around whether we are a tourist town or residential community. He believes that more attention needs to be paid to what works for locals when the tourist season wraps up. He highlights, too, the difficulty in finding lower-paid workers on the Peninsula when many of those same people can’t afford to live here.
Clothing was mentioned by Sharon, who is 63. She would love to see more galleries, but also “more specialty clothing,” and stores featuring dressier attire.
A high-quality Italian bakery and café, a new lingerie store and “another place we can go sit with our dog and have coffee and food,” are a few of the businesses that Angela, 72, and her husband Barry, 73, would like to see open. If they could open something themselves it would be a Wild Birds Unlimited franchise.
I speak with another couple, Ron and Elaine, 79 and 76. “We definitely don’t want any more coffee shops, bookstores or clothing stores.” They would, however, like to have an A&W, and something in the way of a furniture store. Their dream store would be an IKEA, but they admit “We aren’t huge consumers. We’re seniors and we live in a condo.”
Trevor, 48, “would really love to have M&M Meats back. It was so convenient for [locals] and because there are a lot of older people here, it was so convenient for them.” His boys, Brook, 10, and Austin, five, agree that they would love to have a hobby shop and/or RC shop.
Ted, 89, and Saif, 23, were the two men to address clothing. While Ted would like to see a store than offers casual men’s clothing for retirees, Saif envisions a high-end unisex clothing boutique.
What do teens have to say about retail in our neighbourhood? I was lucky enough to engage with six 14-year-old boys and girls who mentioned shoes for young people, “urban” clothing, sporting goods and high-end skin care and cosmetics as being absent for their demographic.
Paul Ryan said something that captures what I see every time I look into a store or restaurant window: “Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing. All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores – these didn’t come out of nowhere.” I, personally, look forward to seeing what stories the future has “in store” for us.