Support the independents

I've noticed a strange paradox between the bigger cities I've lived in and the medium-small city I was brought up in. Lethbridge has a population around 75,000 but I have lived in Toronto and Vancouver as well. The strange thing I want to write about is that while in a smaller city you would kind of expect the population to support their own (after all, independent business owners will be your neighbours, acquaintances, friend's auntie, etc.), it is only in larger cities that I have seen independent businesses thrive.

The Penny Coffee House is a small, locally owned bakery and coffee shop where I worked as a baker a few years ago. They have been in town forever and for a while had the art-house/coffee market cornered. Recently another coffee shop opened, the Round Street Cafe, and though now the two are in competition, they seemed to share the business quite fairly and both were surviving. Just this time last year, yet another Tim Horton's opened (there are now at least 4 in town) a few blocks away from The Penny with a drive through window. Yesterday while chatting with Clive, a co-owner of The Penny, he admitted that the banks tried to foreclose on them earlier this year and they are only managing to keep their heads above water by laying off staff and picking up the slack themselves, shopping at larger grocery chains for cheaper produce, etc. Clive doesn't blame the Round Street Cafe at all; most of the people he has asked about their disappearance from his shop have said they use the new Tim's instead.

What is the problem? It seems that in a town this size, people should be willing to support their own and spend their money locally. As you can see from Clive's temporary solution (The Penny buying produce from a larger, international grocers), the cycle spirals upwards and fewer local businesses are included in the food chain. When a person has the means, I firmly belive they should be conscious of where they spend their money, supporting businesses they believe in and want to see thrive. I'm no economist but every individual does have dollar power: where you lay your cash you lay your allegiance. If you want to support a massive international conglomerate and watch your money leave town (sayonara local bucks!) then shop at Superstore and Tim Horton's and The Gap. If you believe in local communities and individuals trying something new or just trying to support a family, then spend your bucks wisely and conscientiously. I'm ashamed of Lethbridge for allowing their independent businesses to fold in the face of major chains. We lost the Macabees bookstore years ago to Chapters and no one seemed to mind. This year might be the last for Andrew Hilton's wine store since Superstore is undercutting them and attracting all their business. It is only in large cities, maybe because people have to actively seek out community and friendship in a way that is very different than in a small town, that indepedent businesses flourish. And don't give me that crap about having larger centres "the population to support it." A dollar is a dollar is a dollar and where you choose to spend yours says a lot about what you care about and believe in.

Rant over. Comments appreciated!


  1. I fucking love the Penny. In fact, M and I are taking a road trip there later this summer and I am already looking forward to eating a date square and drinking tea in the Penny as much as I am the trip. Ha!

    Sorry this comment doesn't really address the larger issue here, but it's 1 am here and I am exhausted.

    Must... sleep... mmm... dreaming of date squares...

  2. I totally agree. I am all about supporting mom-and-pop businesses. I think at times I'm an overly conscientious consumer. I almost never go to chain restaurants or supermarkets. When I travel, I skip the all inclusive resorts because I don't like all my money going to the same place, and besides, I like exploring and finding new places to it.

    The plethora of chain stores is exactly why I hate the suburb that I live in (I'm stuck here for grad school). Put me in a big city where I can get to know my local bodega owner and coffee guy on the corner.

    I've been trying to encourage people around here to branch out to local businesses, by writing restaurant reviews on my blog of the area. Sometimes it takes little baby steps.

  3. hello all, and especially Liminal Me, I just wanted to state that my Aunt is the owner of the Round Street Cafe, and I appreciate the all-round good comments. I will forward them to her ASAP