Chamber president says more support of local businesses needed

GOBIKE owner Wyatt Waters sits behind the counter of his 100 Ave. business. Waters will be closing the long-time business later this summer.

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Sitting behind his counter beneath a sign advertising 40 per cent off, Wyatt Waters’ face carries a certain degree of sadness for which there is good reason. After seven years in Morinville, Waters will be closing his GOBIKE business in a couple months, a business that has long supported community events, most notably and ironically Waters was one of the main people that lobbied for the town’s skateboard and bicycle park.

GOBIKE is the latest in a string of business closures in town and will join fellow 100 Ave. retailer Brightside Hobbies and 100 Street businesses Fields Department Store and Movie Gallery in vanishing from Morinville. Although the latter two were corporate closures, the loss of four businesses in town so closely on the heels of one another is something that Waters thinks the town needs to take some responsibility for.

“I don’t think they’re doing a very good job of representing the businesses here,” Waters said, adding he felt Morinville lacked variety in its business offerings with far too many liquor stores, restaurants and bars dominating the landscape. “It’s not a home town. You can’t go down town to a meat market. My brother lives in Vegreville and now there’s a Wal-Mart and a Canadian Tire, but downtown they have all sorts of things there.”

Waters said he felt that Morinville is more concerned with increasing its tax base through the development of more housing than looking after the business in town, something he believes is the wrong approach. The long-time businessman said he felt that property taxes should be tripled or quadrupled on undeveloped lots along 100 Ave. to encourage owners to either develop the properties or sell them to someone who would.

“One of the big things that I’ve had a problem with is being able to find a proper retail space,” Waters said, adding that his present location was too small for a bicycle shop and that attempts to encourage developers to build new retail condominium spaces have not bore fruit.

But Waters’ main problem has been in finding enough customers to keep the doors open, a situation that has led him to make the hard decision to wind down his business later this summer. But Waters said he was grateful for the regulars who have supported him over the past seven years.

“I’ve had lots of good customers over the years,” he said, adding that the problem has been that too many people are swayed by the often mistaken idea that big box retailers are cheaper than a small town bike shop. “People are brainwashed into thinking that’s the place to go.”

More support needed

It is a situation that Morinville and District Chamber of Commerce President Sheldon Fingler is well aware of and something he believes needs to be addressed in tandem with municipal government.

“The chamber and the town have to work on developing a real economic development plan because what we’re missing is a true economic development plan for Morinville,” Fingler said, adding that having been involved in Sturgeon County’s economic meetings he has become aware of things happening in the region that will translate into more economic opportunities for Morinville. But Fingler said that while upgrader development in Alberta’s Industrial Hartland will create opportunities for new business, it won’t bring back those the community has already lost or are in the process of losing.

The chamber president said that over the past couple of years the business organization has been focusing on restructuring and reorganizing, but is now on course to move forward with making things happen in the community.

“Our big focus is going to be shop local,” Fingler said, noting that people travelling to St. Albert to buy a bike at a box store are missing sight of the bigger picture. “I think they’re losing sight of the fact that the businesses in our community are the same businesses that are sponsoring their soccer club. So when their kid is wearing their soccer jersey as they’re running across the field, yet they’re not supporting that local business.”

Fingler said both the Chamber of Commerce and local business need to make residents aware that local businesses supporting the community makes the community.

“When people go to the city and make their buying decision solely on saving 10 or 15 per cent, possibly, they’re losing sight of the fact of everything else that local business does for our community,” he said. “It’s part of our tax base; it’s part of our support network, and when you’re supporting out of our community you sometimes lose sight of the fact that the people in the businesses in the community are supporting you, whether it’s directly or indirectly.”

But while Fingler would like to see more residents supporting Morinville businesses, he would also like to see the community’s businesses supporting one another to a greater degree.

“It should start with our residents, but even our businesses in our community have to do as much as they can to support each other,” he said. “One of the things we have to do is we have to go as a group and find new ways of getting initiatives from the town. Our tax base – business vs. residential – is way off of where it should be. We need more business in the community.”

Economic development on the horizon

Morinville Mayor Lloyd Bertschi said economic development is something that is on the town’s agenda this budget year.

“There’s no question in my mind that that should be a primary focus with the council,” Bertschi said. “To that end we have allocated some monies in the budget this year to move forward with a branding awareness marketing campaign, as well as town branding. So that should help bring awareness of the community to the community.”

The mayor said Morinville does not currently have a full time economic development person, but that money had been allocated in this year’s budget to hire people. Other initiatives on the horizon include taking a look at Morinville’s downtown along 100 Ave.

“Now that we have 100 St. done, we’ll turn our attention to 100 Avenue because we recognize very clearly that for a downtown to be successful it needs to look nice, but it also needs to have a thriving business community.”

Bertschi said that as Morinville works on its Municipal Development Plan over the next year to year-and-a-half, it will be reviewing ways to make Morinville’s downtown more sustainable. Working more closely with the chamber to encourage people to shop locally is something Bertschi said is likely to be in the town’s future.

“If you want to have more stores here, we have to do more shopping here,” Bertschi said.

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8 Comments

  1. My husband and I have always made a point to shop at local businesses ncluding GOBIKE. I am saddened to hear that Morinville will be losing another excellent business.

    We have been active volunteers in the community, my husband has been a volunteer soccer coach for many years. I am therefore offended by Mr. Waters quote: “So when their kid is wearing their soccer jersey as they’re running across the field, yet they’re not supporting that local business.” Your desire to strike out and blame soccer volunteers and children is insulting.

    Signed,
    Offended

    • The comment you are attributing to Mr. Waters was not made by Mr. Waters, but by Mr. Fingler, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, as identified in the article. Mr. Waters made no comment on local sports teams whatsoever.

      You are certainly to be applauded for supporting local businesses as are the others who do. But clearly not everyone does that in communiites where access to bigger centres is a short drive away.

      Fingler’s point is a valid one and soccer was used merely as an example. I’ve yet to see the West Edmonton Mall logo on a Morinville team’s jersey. That was in essence the point he was making.

  2. This is an alarming trend for Morinville. There is no question that the economic recession has hurt most businesses in town. In the major valley of this my business tax went up about 35%. This amount is the equivalent of my entire advertising budget for the year. That is not encouraging. Nor does it help me shop local as the mayor suggests. Raising taxes by such a large amount in difficult times and then hiring an economical development person to figure out why businesses are struggling seems counter productive to me. I do realize that it is easy to take shots at politicians that have a truly difficult job and the lines of the budget are not quite as linear as I have suggested. The tax hike does make me wonder about the seriousness of the council’s support of business.

    It is my belief that each business is responsible to show the community why they are a better alternative then the competition. I am saddened that these fine business’s have fallen because of the charm they added to the community. As a business owner I feel responsible to make Morinville a destination for all surrounding communities. The people and business owners in Morinville are amazing!

    I am sure everyone knows that shopping local is good. I am not convinced that people need to be reminded of it by government bulletin boards spent with tax dollars. Getting more “set in our ways” by doing “shop local” campaigns funded by tax dollars seems like a recipe for more government and encouraging “welfare businesses” that need handouts. We need to attract shoppers and visitors from St. Albert, Edmonton and surrounding communities to come to Morinville. This means seriously asking ourselves “What do we really have to offer”.

    We CAN make Morinville a destination. If others notice Morinville I guarantee you that the residents will. I believe this is a recipe for strength.

  3. When I was looking to buy a bike I made the decision to buy my bike locally form GoBike. I could have purchased the bike for $50 less from Edmonton but by the time I spent time and money on gas getting into the city for parts it would just make sense to buy locally and get the parts discount that Wyatt offers.

    Its ashame that Morinville is not a town with cute and fun shops downtown. We need more shops that provide attraction, less bars and liquor stores.

  4. My suggestion to encourage people to shop local: Develop a passport system supported by the Chamber of Commerce. Distribute it to all homeowners and in welcome packages distributed to new residents. Have empty passports available at all local businesses. Decide how many stamps from local businesses on the passport would equal a $5 or $10 voucher to purchase something locally for free. Encourage local businesses to recommend other local businesses to their customers. Develop a way of acknowledging businesses that do this.

    We’ve lived in Morinville for 24 years. It’s a good place to live and we’re happy to support local businesses.

  5. As a local resident and an employee in a local business this article certainly hits home for me. I’ve found a very alarming trend for people to travel to the city to save even a few dollars. If Morinville is to thrive and grow properly in the future those people really need to reconsider such a purchase. What good does your dollar do the big box stores in the city versus the good it could do for a small business in your own town? Shop local people. You help yourself when you help a local business.

  6. For some people saving those extra few dollars is the difference between being able to have that item and eat.

  7. Both my husband and I shop locally to the greatest extent possible. I was extremely saddened to see Fields go because agreement could not be reached on the lease rental. I shopped at this store a great deal and now have to go to St. Albert because there is no where else to go. We are currently doing a renovation on our house and 90% of the purchases have been made at Castle even though it would have been cheaper to go elsewhere.

    We have to do something to keep businesses in town and not worry so much about other issues.

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