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Loss of uniqueness of place
As yet another box store comes to Courtenay at the Crown Isle mall in the form of Dollarama, another fast food McDonald’s outlet, and another Jiffy Lube, we witness the Comox Valley’s ‘race to the bottom’ and the one-of-a-kind character of our community being lost.
With decisions to site more cheap chain outlets here, is the goal to have the Comox Valley become so bland and impoverished that any trace of diversity in our communities eventually vanishes?
Box stores and large chain stores fail the definition of ‘economic development’ — because they pack a weak bang for the buck compared to other economic activity. To measure the ripple effects of a new business, one needs to look ‘upstream’ to see how many supplier jobs the area would gain, and then look ‘downstream’ to see how many jobs would be created by the buying power of the people who work at the new business. The upstream of a box or chain store creates very few jobs for the local economy (i.e., made in China) and the downstream effects are usually terrible. The retail jobs offered by such stores are often part-time, minimum wage, with no health care or other benefits.
Employees of these stores generally have small disposable incomes: after paying for bare necessities, little is left to stimulate the local economy. Building this type of new retail space we’re seeing at Crown Isle just moves sales and low paying jobs around. It doesn't grow the economy on a long-term basis. And it mostly expands precarious service jobs, rather than attracting value-added family supporting jobs.
The failure of most box stores, chains and fast-food eateries to provide workers with a living wage, full-time or permanent part-time hours with benefits, often forces employees and their families to seek out the assistance of social programs. These are funded by taxpayers and add up to a significant hidden cost that such stores bring into a community.
The opening of the ‘new’ retail space at the Crown Isle mall creates the false illusion that the regional economy is prosperous, never mind the closure of stores like Safeway that provides living wages, full time jobs and benefits to a significant number of people. One need only look at the lease, for rent or for sale signs spreading over our downtown cores to see there is confusion about prosperity.
Whose vision is being realized with this Crown Isle retail expansion - our elected City councillors, Comox Valley Economic Development Society, Regional District, or land developers and paving contractors?
A patch of forest is down to make way for the cement monoculture. In the absence of unique development, what about the trees’ value as eco-assets, or the value of trails to the physical and mental well-being of residents? Other countries’ health-care providers are protecting forests as an investment in community development. It is time to reprioritize.
We have two ways of voting – casting our ballots in the November municipal elections and with our wallets – if we have a choice, do we really need to shop and eat at these retail outlets?
S. M. Smith,