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Chain store issue returns

Apparently, the old saying ‘what goes around, comes around’ has real validity when it comes to the issue of chain stores in Banff.

Apparently, the old saying ‘what goes around, comes around’ has real validity when it comes to the issue of chain stores in Banff.

Every now and then, say in 2009 when the locally-owned Banff Book & Art Den closed when facing certain extinction at the hands of Indigo Books, the debate over whether or not the tourist town should embrace, or ban, chain stores arises once again.

The Book & Art Den, over its nearly 45 years, survived fires, flooding and relocation, but its owners could not fight the competitive advantage of a chain store’s buying power, along with online purchases, in the highly competitive publishing market.

The Wedin family, owners of the Den, simply could not contend with the arrival of Indigo and a drop in business due to infrastructure construction (promoted ad nauseum as Banff Refreshing).

Owners put the store up for sale, but in an era where other independently-owned bookstores were suffering, there were no takers.

In the meantime, the spectre of grocery stores and gas stations being closed in favour of more financially valuable developments has also arisen. Much like when Banffites had to motor to Canmore to take advantage of a carwash, the idea of a tourist community without gas and groceries seems ridiculous. Yet the town’s Land Use Bylaw may be changed to protect properties that now feature the two types of retail.

A proposal to limit gift shops in Banff has seen the light of day and been quashed and the idea of limiting new fast food operations to nearly hidden locations has been bantered about.

And now again, with the apparent arrival of the Canadian David’s Teas chain in Banff imminent, the chain store issue has risen again (page 9). Being that Banff’s town council has yet to make a call on allowing or restricting chain stores since the Den closed it’s door, the issue is again an issue.

At some point, Banff’s elected representatives simply must make a decision of whether or not the community will embrace or accept chain stores in town for good – and possibly brace for legal action that would accompany the decision.

For the community to be subjected to a period of angst, anger and outrage over the arrival of each new chain store is not healthy.

We realize presentation of information from a Land Use Bylaw working group concerning the issue is in the offering, but when it comes to chain stores, the real question is whether or not a municipality should dabble in the management of its retail/commercial sector through bylaws.

Some would say the chain store issue has already left the station, as Banff currently boasts many chain food and retail outlets. Others would say a line should be drawn to halt increased takeover of mom and pop operations. Still others would point out that high rental rates in Banff are already a limiting factor to the creation and life of locally-owned businesses. Chains, on the other hand, are more likely able to absorb high rents while a given becomes a moneymaker.

As with most municipal government debates that feature a polarizing issue, there won’t be much room for compromise.

If some future calendar date is set, where chain stores in town are accepted as being grandfathered into existing bylaws, the town must then take restrictions right down to the micromanaging level to ensure others cannot appear.

Or, as many others would argue, Banff’s retail/commercial sector must simply be left to the vagaries of the economic climate; where the strong survive and others do not.

The main thing, though, is a decision must be made. Chains or no chains.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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