November 01, 2022

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The backbone of our communities

I had a helper on my paper route a couple of weeks ago. My 6-year-old grandson Ronan came with me as I dropped off complimentary copies of Respect to Main Street businesses in Cold Lake.

We had a ball, and he absolutely loved getting around and meeting people. He enjoyed providing courteous customer service, chatting and telling people to have a great afternoon.

The store owners and their employees were all very kind to him, giving him plenty of positive attention and even offering some Hallowe’en candy.

For him, it was also a voyage of discovery—we stopped in on businesses that he didn’t know existed, and he got a good glimpse of how important it is to have a rich variety of local economic activity (he didn’t put it quite that way).

I saw a lot of those same local business owners a couple of days later at the Cold Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Business Of The Year Awards. It was fun to have that personal connection and to chat about Ronan’s day helping me with deliveries.

This is what makes living in our smaller communities so enjoyable. It’s not really the cliché you often hear about how everybody knows everybody else. It’s more that our many circles overlap. The people we curl with are friends with someone we know from the Legion or the Lions Club; our kids are classmates or teammates with our insurance broker’s or our car dealer’s kids.

Respect was one of the businesses nominated for a “BOYA” award. Our four-person team came out to celebrate together, and especially to honour the other nominees and the award recipients.

The awards night was a voyage of discovery for me, too. I learned of several amazing local businesses I hadn’t had much interaction with before. I also learned some of the history of Cold Lake’s longer-standing businesses, and met some people who are just starting out.

It’s not news that huge corporate retail operations, or online operations like Amazon, are threatening our main streets. The sheer buying power of international chains makes it almost impossible for the locally-owned store to compete—at least on price.

But there are so many advantages to shopping locally! We all know the main points, like how money spent locally stays in the community—it employs local people, it sponsors local charities, it pays municipal taxes. The local store spends its earnings locally on the services it needs to keep operating, and the positive economic cycle keeps turning.

What I like best is the way local operators love to see you come in the door; how they are excited about the products they offer and thrilled to help you make a good choice.

They care.

Respect operates in Cold Lake, Bonnyville, and St. Paul, and I see the same thing everywhere. “Main Street” is quite literally the backbone of every community. It’s not only the structural centre of town, but the key to the community’s central nervous system: communication among our social, political, and economic functions depends on it.

As consumers we need to look after our own interests. Sometimes that means getting the lowest price, and there’s no shame in shopping around.

But there’s such a thing as “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.” One $100 purchase more or less won’t even be noticed by the mighty international outfits, but it makes a big difference when you spend it in your community. It’s good for everybody. And it’s fun.

Support yourself, support your community—shop local!