COMMUNITY BUSINESSES: Are They Worth It?

“At a certain point, buying books from the store you love is not going to be enough to keep it open… the bigger problem lies in the relationship between capitalism, the commercial real estate market, and the toxic marriage between the two for low-margin businesses…” - Lexi Beach in Why Buying Books Will Not Save Our Beloved Bookstores

It’s no secret that independent businesses often struggle to make a go of it. The slow disappearance of the small corner bookshop is a well-known example, as is its replacement with the mega-stores (Chapters/Indigo) and online behemoths (Amazon). Even successful, well-loved community businesses can find it difficult to stay afloat, let alone provide a living wage for their owner/operators and staff members. Ask a home-based or online business owner why they aren’t on Main Street, and they would most likely quote the costs of rental space and utilities.

Community businesses are the ones we love to visit because they make us feel good. The owners and staff know us; it’s our home away from home. We shop there regularly, and would miss them terribly if they closed. STACEY WAKELIN’s family is the current owner of Clipper Street Scrapbooking Company, which has been open for business in Langley since 2004. It is well-loved by its customers, and has been well represented over the years in Langley’s Best of the Best Annual Awards.

Clipper Street has been successful because it’s created a community of people from all over the Lower Mainland who love being creative together. Yes, the store sells paper, and tools, and inks and dyes, and stamps, and embellishments. But, the truth is, customers could order all of those items online from somewhere. What makes Clipper Street special is the community events and garage sales, the events featuring artists from around the world, and most importantly, the classes. The classes create a special space where two things happen: individuals engage in the creative process and they come together to share their stories. This is where friendships develop.

Home-based businesses provide a great starting point, but what can we do better? How can our local government help start-ups transition to bricks-and-mortar and become part of the larger community? If commercial rental space is acting as a road block, let’s provide a way through. “Locally owned, independently run businesses make our lives better.” The article suggests commercial real estate developers be educated about community and vibrant neighbourhoods. It also suggests offering them tax incentives in exchange for lower rents for community businesses…

What do you think? Is affordable rent for small independent shopkeepers something you'd support? 

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