October 9

Small business is a big deal

After Beva Kirk started keeping track of local shoppers, it came as a surprise when she learned how many of them made up her customer base.

After Beva Kirk started keeping track of local shoppers, it came as a surprise when she learned exactly how many of them made up her customer base over a three week period — just seven per cent.

“We get a lot of people asking for (community group) donations and it kind of dawned on me that… they never shop here,” said Kirk, who co-owns Crazy Soles, the running and yoga store in Invermere, with her husband Jordie.

So she decided that for every 12 locals who made a purchase in her store, she would donate one prize to a Rockies home game, and started a list of names.

“I want to support local and all of these community events, and especially kids in sports,” Kirk said. “I think what I’ll do is keep this going, just because it’s been interesting.

A huge percentage of her customers come from Alberta, she said, and, in the last few weeks, there’s been a big influx from the United States.

“I don’t think there is any business in Invermere that isn’t on par with prices in Calgary, but there seems to be an illusion that we do charge more and I think that’s false,” Kirk said. “I think the factor is there’s a little bit more tax here… but people continue to shop in B.C. from Alberta, I mean that’s a big percentage shopping here, so I think that perception needs to change among our locals.”

Another incentive Kirk offers to locals is a 10 per cent discount to anyone who is a member of the Columbia Valley Cycling Society or the local nordic club.

“It would be nice to see more (people on the list),” she said.

While Elita Bentley doesn’t have an offical locals’ discount, she will discount ten per cent when she notices a local is frequently shopping in her store, Be Gifted, in downtown Invermere.

“I think one challenge for local shoppers is our streets roll up at 5 p.m. so when you work here, it’s really difficult to shop local when you’re working most days,” Bentley said.  “We as retailers have the challenge of trying to find a way to be open a little bit later but that’s really tough  because then you have the expense of your staff staying open.”

With most local shopkeepers already working over 40 hours a week, encouraging them to stay open late is another challenge, she said.

“It’s kind of a Catch-22, I think, that our town is experiencing.”

The benefit Bentley sees in shopping locally is that you deal with people who understand their products really well, and who are on hand to offer immediate help.

“I think this is an amazing small town; we’re really really lucky here that because of the tourism we’re able to have this incredibly vibrant downtown core with quite an amazing selection of products (and)  fairly fair pricing,” she said. “If we didn’t have that tourism industry, we’d be another one-horse blink-you-miss-it town with a grocery store, a post office and a few cafes, that would be it.

“I think a lot of times, as a local I forget and I take it for granted that we have this here and always expect it to be here but if it doesn’t get support, it can’t be here, it can’t exist because shopkeepers need to make a living, too.”

James Lazarius is pleased with the strong local support he sees for The Book Bar, Invermere’s book store which he co-owns with Joshua Faye, but said that because the town is so seasonal, he sees a swing from one end of the spectrum to the other in just a matter of months.

“It’s tough during the slow season,” he said. “When it’s great it’s great, when it’s slow, it’s slow; there’s a real ebb and flow here from one extreme to the other.”

While Lazarius isn’t convinced that online retailers necessarily affect his business, he does believe more exposure is needed.

“I’ve heard it in the past where people have been driving right up to Panorama to go skiing for the last ten years and never even know that Invermere was here,” he said.