Looking back, the face of business in my lifetime has had quite a ride. As a teenager in Five Acres in Nanaimo, I remember the neighbourhood and what it provided to our family. Our eggs came from two blocks away, our milk from a block away, and next door was a cheese maker and where we also got our pork. For the vegetables that we did not raise ourselves, the Malkin’s truck made weekly visits to the neighbourhood, bringing the market to our door.
Everyone went downtown on Friday night and it was a social gathering as well as getting the supplies needed for the coming week. There were 3 butcher shops on Commercial Street. The one I remember was close to the Queen’s Hotel where deer and beef hung in the open, side by side, aging. Eaton’s was the fixture downtown and a destination. The liquor store was on Cavan Street and was long before self-serve came into being. Everything you needed was in a 4 block strip!
Gradually things got busier and Simpson Sears came to the downtown core along with Safeway, providing more one-stop shopping. As the city advanced towards Departure Bay, more retail development followed and people no longer needed to go downtown as much.
The major change in retail came in 1980 when three major malls were constructed. Nanaimo became the retail capital of Vancouver Island! We were the major shopping centre for everything North of Ladysmith on the Island as well as Powell River. The effect on the downtown core was devastating. Businesses had little hope in marketing against the giants as they had never had to compete for business.
Gradually the downtown lost businesses as the traffic they had enjoyed was no longer there. More and more grocery chains began to appear closer to the newer areas of the city, each with a meat department so the independent butcher shops began to close. People were enthralled at the variety of shops and services in one location at the malls, also a dry location during the rains. There was a new place for the Friday night social!
But, people eventually tired of the generic store offerings and the downtown began to rebuild its retail once more, but with more boutique shops and services. It has become a destination once again with its coffee shops, cafes, and waterfront attractions.
Those that survived over the years and the changes that took place, did not just see the negative side of the change, they saw the opportunities that presented themselves. In business, there are things that you have control over, and things you don’t. As the song says, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, Know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away”. But, you also have control over what you do and the way you do it, so the entrepreneurs that are in the community today, saw the opportunity and ran with it.
Many changes have occurred over the years, not only in Nanaimo, but in all communities big and small. The one thing that has not changed is we all need work, food, and shelter.
Where is your opportunity in this changing landscape?
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