Eleven joined this ASK Salt Spring gathering in the United Church Meadow, welcoming our Chamber’s new Operations Manager, Alexander Fischer-Jean, and its president, Darryl Martin. After our Territorial Acknowledgement questions began, resulting in a rich conversation focused on our local businesses - their challenges and successes.
President Darryl Martin reminded us that business means something different on Salt Spring: Not large corporations, our businesses are almost entirely locally-owned - they are our neighbours. While small and local, they are also very vulnerable to disturbing supply challenges and worldwide financial realities.
Alexander and Darryl were asked how our local business owners were coping as our community opens up again after the years of COVID challenges. We learned that tourists have returned. When asked, Alexander estimated that approximately 1/3 of our businesses are tourist-focused and that - despite the recent BC Ferries dramas - local business challenges are not the result of too few visitors. While there are still fewer out-of-province visitors, observers conclude that our shops, restaurants, and markets are rich with visitors from all over BC.
When asked if this healthy tourism industry extends beyond the summer months, we learned that off-season tourism is gradually growing. This could be the result of the significantly-increased costs of popular storm season locations such as Tofino. It is also likely the result of the Chamber's collaboration with the Southern Gulf Islands Tourism Partnership to exclusively focus marketing efforts on off season tourism.
Despite the return of customers, too many essential Salt Spring businesses have been lost. Alexander and Darryl were asked whether it was their role to strategically advertise throughout Canada to attract businesses we need to again be a vibrant, balanced community. While intrigued by the idea, they reminded us that the Chamber has neither the resources nor the governmental power to entice businesses and help ensure their success through systemic supports like grants and tax breaks.
This led us to the core of our conversation - what can our Chamber do to support our businesses?
Housing: Among the biggest local challenge for our businesses is hiring workers. (We were reminded that we are not alone and that many Duncan restaurants are closed on Sundays due to similar staffing issues.) Plentiful customers are here; finding the workers to serve them is virtually impossible due largely to skyrocketing home prices and the dearth of rental worker housing.
BC Ferries: A member of the BC Ferries Salt Spring Advisory Committee, the Chamber has recently been barraged by complaints about the recent cancellations. Despite BC Ferries’ efforts to combat this serious challenge for our island community with passenger-only water taxis and accommodations for those stranded, these cancellations have clearly been traumatic to businesses and residents.
The Chamber is determined to help address this problem through current information as well as advocacy to address the long-term problems spotlighted by these cancellations. Concerning the challenges of this advocacy, we were reminded that achieving consensus for advocacy is often difficult. Without consensus uniting us to move forward together, it is perfectly understandable that decision-makers are more likely to support communities offering a united front on key issues.
Ganges Beautification: Ganges Beautification: The Chamber has been working closely with the Salt Spring Island Arts Council to install three murals around our village to beautify and add needed-vibrancy.
While such important steps forward, the conversation shifted to what else the Chamber could do to make Ganges a pleasanter place? Chamber folks were asked if they could encourage local landowners to take pride in their property by regularly sweeping and removing debris. We were reminded that, in may cases, local business owners are not the landowners. Too often, in the opinion of a participant, landowners focus only on their buildings, largely forgetting that the surrounding land is also their responsibility.
In counterpoint to this, we were also reminded that much of Ganges is privately-owned and often better maintained than Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure property.
What about organizing a community clean-up? How can we change our culture and take pride in our community again? It was suggested that the Chamber survey local businesses to learn about the challenges they face. Is the water shortage impacting their motivation to have flowers? What is stopping them from sweeping debris from their sidewalks?
Mental Health Support: While Darryl and Alexander freely-admitted that this is not their area of expertise, they agreed that our business owners and workers are frontline workers, vulnerable to mental health challenges. While it was not clear what the Chamber can do to support the mental health of its business owners, that conversation has begun. A participant stated that it would be amazing for our mental health professionals to partner with the Chamber to support the mental health of our business owners and workers through mutual listening. (Note: To learn more about support systems available to business owners, mental health professionals will be our special guests at the next ASK Salt Spring gathering, Friday, August 5, 11-1, in the United Church Meadow)
Darryl did acknowledge that, under the caring leadership of our RCMP Sergeant Clive Seabrook, some mental health challenges experienced by business owners concerning vandalism and inappropriate behaviors in our parks has largely-dissipated. Clive’s commitment to community policing and RCMP’s respectful approach to all appears to be reaping very satisfying results.
Community Information: While called the Visitors’ Information Centre, we learned that a significant portion of those who visit this centre are locals needing information. While its funding depends upon continuing to serve our tourist population, increasing its use as a local community resource is one of the Chamber's top priorities.
Graffiti: Last month, we learned that most taggers are being apprehended. We also learned last week from our roads maintenance contractor, Emcon, that replacing these signs is very expensive, taking resources from our much-needed road maintenance budget.
A participant asked if our very successful Restorative Justice program could work with the RCMP to develop a system in which perpetrators make reparations for this damage rather than relying on our tax dollars. A participant committed to initiate this conversation.
Overnight Parking: At Clive’s recent visit to ASK Salt Spring, (link above), we also learned that he is working with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to get No Overnight Parking signs posted through our village. While he has no intention of citing those who only sleep overnight and leave with dispatch, these signs will give him the tool to cite those who linger too long, litter, and abandon their vehicles.
While a reasonable approach, we were reminded that simply making folks who have nowhere else to sleep move is not the solution. How could a place be designated where they could stay? A far more complex conversation than simply moving them from one place to another, it was suggested that the solution requires widespread community collaboration, working together energetically and intelligently to address supporting folks with no homes. The Chamber would be a key player in these complex discussions.
Less Vehicular Traffic Efforts abound to make our streets safer for cyclists, pedestrians, and all those who power themselves from one place to another - now called active transportation. But, it is a complicated and costly challenge to create sidewalks/pathways and bike lanes throughout our village and along our plentiful rural roads.
So many studies, so many efforts, so much to do. . . .
As our time together was nearly over, this complicated conversation was left for another time. . .maybe a key topic for MLA Adam Olsen’s next visit to ASK Salt Spring September 2?
For now, we gratefully thanked Alexander and Darryl for spending their time with us, their openness to significantly-expanding the role of our Chamber, their hard work and tenacity, and a consistent willingness to partner in conversations to address the issues most important to us. (Thanks, Alexander and Darryl!)
Please join us Friday, August 5, 11-1, in the United Church Meadow to welcome our mental health experts David Norget, Willie MacPherson, and their team to discuss this important challenge and opportunity for our community.
What would you like to ask them?
What are our biggest mental health challenges?
What are our successes?
What can you tell us about the Mental Health Summits?
What would you like to see as next steps to address mental health concerns in our community?
Any question, anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer. We love your receipts! Remember: #15 Our Partners... Our rent - reduced through the generosity of our Library - is being paid for by Island Savings’ Simple Generosity grant. Cookie and coffee fixings are the result of the generosity of Country Grocer. What a team! Gayle Baker ASK Salt Spring