Businesses walk a very tight rope

Doug Jensen created a storm last month when he began talking about local business and the opportunities that are available to them to change. That led to a second storm over the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce and the BIA’s campaign to shop locally.
When Chambers of Commerce trot out the shop locally campaign, they often seem to backfire because consumers do not like to be guilted into shopping locally or told where to shop.
Businesses walk a very tight rope in working with customers. Yet the Chamber’s argument that shopping locally helps maintain a vital and strong community is valid.
When I first started selling advertising in our community, more than 35 years ago, there were almost 100 businesses located on the 100, 200, and 300 blocks of Scott Street.
There were three lumber yards and a dozen gas stations in Fort Frances. There were three men’s wear stores, six giftware stores, and three hardware stores.
There seemed to be a lot of business to go around.
Commercial taxes back then accounted for one-third of the tax revenue in Fort Frances, with the mill paying one-third and homeowners the other third.
Today we see a much different scene. Only one lumber yard remains, and we are down to three gas stations. The corner grocery stores have all but disappeared.
The 100 businesses on Scott Street have declined to fewer than 40 and today homeowners pay more than half of municipal taxes. The tax burden of those businesses has shifted to homeowners.
A retail building located on Scott Street today is not worth the value of a modest home. Its value has declined in the last 30 years.
The loss of 60 businesses on Scott Street has resulted in the loss of more than 200 full-time jobs. Most businesses just quietly closed their doors—and each closing resulted in fewer choices.
The loss of those businesses today also sees reductions in generosity for causes such as the “Just Imagine” campaign for a CT Scanner at La Verendrye Hospital and the “Building for the Future” driver to build a new public library here.
Fortunately, local citizens have stepped in generously to help fund those projects.
True, there are some retail successes. Canadian Tire moved and then rebuilt. Safeway has moved and expanded twice. Wal-Mart has come to Fort Frances. But those three hardly make up for the loss of all that retailing in the downtown core.
The season of tournaments begins again. Every remaining business will be contacted to help fund the penny tables, draws, and more. And most will support those tournaments with diminishing profits.
They will do it because they believe in the community and its citizens.
Today local businesses face more competition than ever. On any given day, I receive purchasing opportunities from a half-dozen companies over the Internet. We can instantly compare prices for any product found locally against competitors anywhere in North America.
One can always find a cheaper price and purchase it out of the community.
But what is the ultimate cost of the loss of business in our communities. Is the loss of retail jobs in Fort Frances critical? Is the support for hospitals, libraries, schools, and teams important to their well-being and the citizens of the community?

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