Cochrane businesses looking for better representation, engagement from the town
Thursday, Oct 05, 2017 06:00 am
With the municipal election looming, Cochrane business owners have their ears perked as to what candidates have to say and, more importantly, what they are pledging to do.
A shifting economy has been matched with continued high commercial rents and competition from new Quarry businesses. With annual minimum wage hikes, the pressures continue to mount on small businesses.
Some established businesses are looking for support from the town and have been disappointed by the town’s economic development team.
Jennifer Winter of Winter Photographics has owned and operated the photography store in Cochrane since 1989. She relocated from Pioneer Plaza downtown to the complex where Safeway is located more than five years ago.
“I don’t know when we lost the ability to talk to each other – not to debate or be combative – but to talk,” said Winter, with respect to her experiences with the town’s economic development team.
Winter feels the town has done nothing to mitigate a segregated business community with the Quarry businesses coming online and feels the Cochrane Dollar initiative is nothing short of an expensive, shortsighted and ineffective tourist grab.
She cites the Visitor Centre as an example of poor engagement on the part of the town – with limited visibility and inadequate parking.
“We need business cohesion so we can move forward as a group,” said Winter, who would be in favour of a business task force and is hopeful council will provide better direction to economic development.
Janet Armstrong of Just Imajan Art Gallery & Studio said she has spent a decade appealing to the town to get a light standard or business signage on Third Avenue West, to no avail.
Armstrong said she has consistently been met with pushback and red tape, even though she has offered to design a sign pole that would fall in line with the western heritage theme.
She said her neighbour businesses continue to place sandwich boards that “constantly get blown over by the wind” along Third Avenue West.
Karrie Peace, owner of Poor David’s and the Heavenly Outhouse and chair of the Historic Downtown Action Committee, is no stranger at taking the town to task to ensure Historic Downtown is maintained, promoted and preserved.
She empathizes with the challenges faced by small businesses in town – highlighting the Safeway complex businesses as reminiscent of Historic Downtown a few years ago – before the town’s revitalization of the main core began.
Until recently, many storefronts were left vacant. Now, the vibrancy is returning to downtown – with “unique and vibrant” businesses opening up.
Peace said it took getting loud – really loud – about the decline in Historic Downtown’s in other municipalities and the emphasis on the preservation of Cochrane’s mainstay businesses in order to maintain the town’s true “spirit of the west” backbone.
She also feels that the town could have better prepared existing businesses for the influx of Quarry stores opening up overnight.
“When a developer puts in multiple, similar retail or restaurant locations I think they know what they’re doing is going to slaughter independent business … it’s pretty cutthroat,” said Peace.
Peace also questions the viability of the Cochrane Dollars initiative, in a day and age when people are carrying less cash.
“Before you go and spend our taxpayer dollars, talk to us.”
She said she encourages other business quadrants to form similar lobby groups – and to connect with her to talk about how.