One of the hot topics of conversation for quite some time around North Grenville has been downtown Kemptville and what needs to be done to revive it.
Some people seem to think that Merrickville is an example of local success. However, having recently spoken to a couple of business owners in Merrickville, they say that their fortunes are on the decline. The loss of boating traffic due to reduced canal operation hours, less boaters in general, multiple businesses selling the same types of products, people visiting but not buying and people only visiting every few months, are some of the challenges faced by them.
When I ask residents if they shop downtown Kemptville, the typical response is ‘yes’. However, they say that they would shop downtown more if they were given a reason to. The chief concerns are a perceived lack of parking (that issue could be a whole article in itself), limited business hours and a limited number of businesses to shop at. The list of businesses that are open downtown seems to be shrinking monthly.
I’ve spoken with many of the downtown business owners and they wouldn’t disagree with the parking concern. They also know the concern about the limited hours of the downtown. Some of these businesses have limited money for staffing and sometimes the owner is the only employee. These people are also parents, wives, husbands and community volunteers and can’t always stay open twelve hours per day, seven days a week. Some business owners are willing to be open later and to be open Sundays, but they say that if they’re the only business open, it’s ultimately not worth it.
I think there are several possible solutions for the limited downtown hours problem. One, if the BIA could convince its members to follow a standard ‘hours of operation’ for downtown Kemptville, it would help people to know when businesses are open. Two, shift individual business hours of operation to better accommodate the 2/3 of residents who work outside North Grenville. Maybe being open 10-7 would give residents a chance to make their way downtown after they get home and have dinner. Three, maybe have extended hours on Thursday and/or Friday nights only, to encourage more people to come downtown. Four, I think that being open on Sundays could be a good idea at least during the summer because of the success of the farmers’ market on Sundays. One downtown business owner says that his business on Sundays has increased greatly because of the success of the farmers’ market and his business is several blocks away from it.
There’s no doubt that all of the big box businesses along Country Road 43 have hurt the downtown area. But, I think that the downtown area can experience a revival. I believe that downtown can offer something that the big box stores can’t, a more unique and personalized shopping experience. Big box stores are designed to offer the same shopping experience no matter what city or town you shop in. Downtown businesses can offer personalized service (employees who know you by name and know what you like) and a more comfortable, hometown shopping atmosphere. Big box stores offer the same products and services at each location with little flexibility because of corporate policies and agreements. Downtown businesses can be more flexible and bring in the products that their local residents are asking for.
I’ve worked in business for years in corporate, franchise and small independent environments. Corporate big box businesses simply can’t offer what the small downtown businesses can offer. So instead, they use: lower prices, mass media advertising, extended hours, convenient locations, lots of free parking and marketing tactics to get people to support them. Sadly, these things are very effective in attracting people to their businesses. But to me, the most telling statistic about this situation of big box versus downtown is this information taken from a Canadian grocery industry study. The study said that for every dollar spent in a local independent business (like in a downtown), that single dollar can be recycled back into the community as many as six times. So the independent business owner will then spend that dollar buying a take out lunch at a local restaurant, then that restaurant owner will use that many to pay for groceries for their family etc. Whereas, every dollar spent in a big box store, gets sent out of the area to a head office in another city.
I’ll leave you with this thought: If we spent one dollar more on a better cup of coffee each day, we could keep a local coffee shop from closing. If we ate at local restaurants from now on, not only would we be helping those businesses, but we’d be helping the surrounding ones too. Did you know if we spent 5% more on groceries at that independent grocery store down the street, we would be helping to keep 50 neighbours and local residents employed? If we bought our vegetables at the farmers’ market every Sunday, we would be supporting local farmers and their families. Did you know that if we made these small adjustments, we just secured the future of downtown Kemptville?
So let’s start doing it!