Around a dozen empty downtown businesses, several resulting from recent closures, is cause for concern among some, while others view it as a transitional period leading to new opportunities.
Two of those vacant businesses sit across the street from Salmon Arm Barber Shop owner and chamber president Matt Koivisto. He calls the spate of recent downtown business closures troubling.
“It’s not like it’s just one or two, it’s a lot that are leaving this summer. And as a downtown businessman, I don’t like it, I don’t like to see empty stores,” said Koivisto.
Koivisto says the matter will be discussed by the chamber to see how it might help. He recognizes, however, that there are different reasons behind each of the closures – some the result of retirements, some because their lease was up while others opted to pursue different opportunities.
Developer and downtown commercial property owner Bill Laird views the downtown vacancies as business as usual, and is optimistic about the situation. He currently has four downtown commercial properties sitting vacant.
“Because it has all come in one fell swoop, it looks more challenging than it really is,” assured Laird. “I mean, these spaces will all fill up. Some will take six months, some will take a little longer.”
To further his point, Laird said a lease has just been signed on at least one of the vacancies – one he doesn’t own. As for his own properties, Laird said negotiations are underway with three, possibly four interested parties.
“And I will close at least two of those if not three of them,” said Laird.
While acknowledging there are various personal reasons behind each of the recent closures, Laird also attributed the overall situation to a phenomena he couldn’t explain, but said he’s witnessed over time.
“I can’t explain why, but over the years, it’s always been a fact that whenever residential was strong, retail, for whatever reason, was weak. So the curves run opposite of each other. And I cannot explain that. I can just say that it’s a fact,” said Laird.
Jim Kimmerly, the former Salmon Arm chamber president and downtown business owner, who is currently organizing the community group Plan 4 Prosperity, suggests new commercial shopping opportunities to the west of town may have contributed to a few of the downtown closures.
“If you’re in competition with some of those operators, it’s a pretty tough game,” said Kimmerly. “Hopefully the new businesses that come into downtown are not going to be in that type of situation.”
Kimmerly also suggests the city’s demographics are playing a big role in what businesses are able to succeed downtown, adding the city, over the past nine months, has seen a significant influx of people ages 55 and up.
He suggests a diverse downtown – and an overall healthier community – will require an influx of younger families.
“We’ve got to get that younger group in here, not just for the retail services businesses but for the school system as well,” said Kimmerly.
For Koivisto, though his shop may not currently face competition with businesses outside the downtown core, he is not sitting complacent.
“For my business, just as a small businessman, I’m expanding, I’m not contracting, I’m doing different things, I’m going more online,” Koivisto explained.
“A barbershop doing an online business doesn’t seem to make much sense, but I can sell my products online… And the more advertising I do online, the more people find out about me.”
Kimmerly supports this approach, saying businesses have to be prepared to evolve to meet the needs of changing demographics.