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Is it business as usual in Coaldale?

Posted on September 9, 2014 by Sunny South News

Recently, in the Town of Coaldale a few retail and restaurant businesses have closed up shop due to various reasons or have moved to another town  — a few examples would be Sidelines, La Ta Da, The Trendy Trunk and the dollar store. Is there a trend happening in Coaldale with businesses closing up or is it just part of the ever-changing business sector similar in most small towns throughout Alberta?

“I do not believe this is a trend. I have not spoken with each of the affected businesses but my understanding is each closed for a different reason. I would like to suggest businesses are in fact looking at establishing in Coaldale,” said Town of Coaldale Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Larry Davidson.

A case in point, Davidson explained, is the recent addition of Polymax.  According to the CAO, this 110,000 square foot manufacturing facility, at full production, could provide up to 70 full-time jobs.

“Other recent additions to our industrial park include Inland Screw Pile, Dennis’ Dirtworx — an expansion of an existing business, Canastone Contracting, Exterra Surveys Ltd. and various other businesses located in commercial bays of our industrial park. The town receives regular enquiries from businesses looking to establish in Coaldale. One limiting factor to the growth of Coaldale is available land,” Davidson noted.

A fact is, businesses open and close every day in southern Alberta and across the province. How does Coaldale attract new business and retain businesses already located in town?

Davidson said the town has the ability to attract investment through good financial stewardship, sound development policy and by providing services with a minimum of red tape.

“The town can also assist with development by providing serviced land to businesses when the private sector can’t or is unwilling to provide land. The town’s message to the business community is ‘We are open for business,’” said Davidson.

Business startups, Davidson added, need to develop a business plan and have sufficient cash flow to be successful and residents also play a major role by supporting businesses in our community.

“Today’s society is very transient. Consumers typically determine where they shop based on price, quality and proximity of goods, and customer service. Residents occasionally need to be reminded the important role our business community provides with services, jobs in our community, as well as community supports through in-kind contributions, donations, and volunteer hours. The Coaldale and District Chamber of Commerce can be very effective in supporting our business community through promotions, events and support programs such as their benefits program,” said Davidson.

Dixie McCarley from the Coaldale chamber of commerce said, with the exception of La Ta Da and the dollar store, who are retiring, she is not aware of any other businesses at this time closing in the community.

“Recently, we have had a new liquor store open, bulk food store, European restaurant at the Coaldale Motor Inn and waiting on a new pizza place down the street from Sunny South News,” said McCarley.

Davidson believes the downtown core needs to be revitalized and from an infrastructure perspective the downtown utilities are some of the oldest in Coaldale. He would rather see the town engage in a proactive replacement strategy to assist in any revitalization.

“Where we can identify timelines and control costs rather than a reactive approach that can be cost prohibitive. Taking such a proactive approach will also provide an opportunity to beautify our downtown. Studies have shown an attractive downtown encourages people to visit with their friends and family and window shop(s) can dramatically add to a business’s bottom line. Creating inviting spaces, which allow visitors and residents alike the ability to spend more time has lasting benefits,” said Davidson.

Community events such as festivals, Davidson added, also add to the downtown experience. According to the CAO, revitalization by itself will not succeed.

“The town needs to work in partnership with the chamber of commerce, local businesses and the residents to not only create an inviting streetscape, but work with the business community to enhance facades and new buildings. Programs such as Community Futures facade program — where businesses can receive a small loan and the town pays the interest costs — are an excellent opportunity for a business owner to add value to their business and create an inviting atmosphere for their customers.

Other programs for consideration, Davidson noted, may include a freeze on assessment for a specific period for commercial businesses who do major improvements.

One aspect of doing business in a small town close to a larger urban centre is leakage.

“Every business and every community experiences leakage. Business needs to understand their customer, their market, and their products, while providing a level of service that consumers will enjoy. Price is not the only consideration for some people — that being said, the reality is people like to shop at big box stores, at the expense of customer service or at least with the knowledge they may not know the owner or where the profits go. Local businesses invest in our town and play an integral role in the development of our community,” said Davidson, adding anyone deciding to start a business anywhere must understand the risk factors.

“Knowing their market, customer demographics, competitors, availability of suppliers and cost of shipping and marketing are all part of the planning process. Spend the time to analyze your cost of operations and determine whether the business can be sustainable on its own or whether a regular injection of money will be required to meet expenses. Most businesses do not create positive cash flow to provide a salary immediately. There are many different agencies — both private and government agencies like Community Futures — who can assist with business planning,” said Davidson.

Davidson said Coaldale faces an exciting future with new residential development spurring new commercial opportunities and increased industrial development will provide additional jobs, families and a balanced tax burden between residential and non-residential.

“Downtown commercial property owners should position their properties/land to take advantage of our growth by providing new commercial space to retailers who are looking for bright, spacious and easily accessible storefronts,” added Davidson.

One aspect of doing business in any community, Davidson said, is change doesn’t happen overnight.

“Creating a community-based plan for our downtown core, working with our businesses and chamber of commerce to promote our community for business opportunities, tourism, and festivals will enhance the retail experience of the consumer and benefit the business community as a whole,” said Davidson.

Coaldale Mayor Kim Craig added the town’s business community features a number of long-standing and successful — manufacturing, retail and service businesses — and have served Coaldale and area very well.

On the other side of the coin is previous Coaldale business La Ta Da owner Laura Youngren who moved her trendy business to Fort Macleod this past June, which sells repurposed antiques, art-based products and more.

“I begged for help from the town and the chamber for two-and-a-half years. I’ve gone into $60,000 worth of debt trying to make this store fly,” said Youngren.

Youngren said she was either going to have to close her shop in Coaldale and go completely out of business or find somewhere else to set up shop.

“My friend owns a building in Fort Macleod and wanted to do a store similar to mine plus the town there is very supportive of art and culture and trying to help get the business going there,” said Youngren, adding she has been a vendor at the new location since leaving Coaldale at the end of June.

“I took a chance and I was just hoping that people would kind of find it interesting,” said Youngren, in regards to why she originally opened her business in Coaldale, where she continues to reside at this time.

The biggest thing for Coaldale, Youngren noted, was she was hoping the Coaldale downtown core would be similar to other small towns with a vibrant downtown community with the hustle and bustle of thriving businesses selling their unique wares and wonders — in a tourism-based shopping town.

“I went to the town with all these ideas saying let’s start promoting the town as a shopping town. We need some signage on the highway because I noticed they were supporting the farmers’ market but they weren’t supporting their own retail. The farmers’ market — most of the people there aren’t even from Coaldale. I live here, pay taxes here and my business (was) here,” said Youngren, adding the farmers’ market gets a big beautiful sign every year, which she said is pretty frustrating.

“I was trying to get them to do some promotion in the paper or trade show thing — ‘Come to shop Coaldale.’ It benefits everybody,” said Youngren.

According to Youngren, in regards to the Coaldale chamber of commerce, she said she ended up not becoming a member last year.

“I find all they do is plan a couple of parades and that’s it. I never found they helped me at all. They never came to me to ask for suggestions,” said Youngren.

Youngren also stated she couldn’t attend chamber meetings because they were held during the day and with a business a store owner can’t leave their store for an hour. “So I couldn’t even go to the meetings,” added Youngren.

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