The small northern town of Fort Nelson is bolstering its small, independent businesses, with help from Small Town Love and the Northern Development Initiative Trust.
“The business economy in a small town is very much like an ecosystem,” said Amy Quarry, the founder and director of Small Town Love. “There are some franchises and there are some independents and there’s some industry, and everything is all in balance.”
The problem for many of the independent businesses in Fort Nelson is that they might not be the first choice for visitors or newcomers to town.
“Amy and I were there to do the workshop a few months ago, and when you’re not familiar with the community, where do you go eat? Boston Pizza, right?” said Renata King of the Northern Development Initiative Trust. “You can have a much more authentic and genuine kind of experience if you go to a local, independent business.”
The Small Town Love project is growing. It started last year with a pilot project in six communities. This year, they have 18 communities, and their goal is to get as many northern communities on board as want to join.
In Fort Nelson, the project has gotten more than 30 businesses to sign up already. Each business pays $100. For that, they get a photo shoot, and their profiles are included on the website, lovefortnelson.com, which will launch soon, Quarry said.
Both Quarry and King stressed that supporting local businesses keeps dollars in the community. Up to $73 of every $100 spent at a local business will stay in the community, said Quarry, as opposed to as little as $13 spent at a franchise or chain. It also provides jobs, and often supplies, to other businesses in town.
“Maybe you have an independent local business. Your accounting is probably going to be done locally, you’re probably going to buy your paper locally, you’re probably going to work with other local businesses,” said Quarry.
This is just one of Northern Development’s programs in the North. Many of those focus on energy development, but not this one.
“Everyone is saying that industry is where our economy is going ... and they’re all important,” said King. “But so are the small, independent businesses – they’re just as important in the community. We’re looking for ways to support them, and this is one of the ways to do it, to give them a marketing platform that showcases the diamonds in our own backyard.”
That, in turn, benefits everyone, said Quarry.
“I think that the stronger our independent businesses are, and the more diverse and interesting they are, the better our towns will do in the North, and the more people will choose to stay in the North and really build their lives there.”