Kimberley City Councillor Don McCormick has been very busy the past few months working with the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to build a Downtown Business Association.
McCormick says perceptions can have a lot to do with how people view a community, and that there may be some perceptions about Kimberley, the Platzl and local business that are not entirely accurate.
“Perceptions can be created by a few visible things,” McCormick said.
“I’ve spoke to a number of businesses downtown who say that the past year was their best year. A lot of others were up. That’s not to say that everyone is doing well, or couldn’t do better, but it’s not a state of depression.”
Part of it is empty storefronts, he says. But he also says if you take out the empty space where the Fields store was —which was closed as part of a national shut down of the chain — and the empty building gutted by fire earlier this year, the vacancy rate in the Platzl is bout 20 to 25 per cent.
“That’s pretty normal for downtown areas,” he said. “Cranbrook and Nelson have about the same vacancy rate, but our Platzl is so concentrated a few empty spots are noticed.”
Another visible thing that gives a very bad impression is for sale signs, McCormick said.
“The perception is that business is not good. But what we have in Kimberley is a lot of business owners of the same age trying to retire. A whole bunch of them started their businesses at the same time, aged together and are reaching 70 years old. The downtown is in a state of transition, and that’s not bad. It’s normal. But the signs create a terrible impression.”
One thing McCormick would like to see improve is the support of downtown businesses by locals. It has always been a little less than it could be.
“The common feedback is, ‘those aren’t the kind of stores I need’. That may be true, but just going downtown for a coffee is easy to do. My wife and I were in the Platzl for coffee last weekend and it was just great. People were out and about, there was a vibrancy to it.”
Creating vibrancy in the Platzl is top of the agenda for the new Downtown Business Association.
“There is a long wish list, but we are going to start with things that don’t cost too much money but can have a big effect. That’s why we are going to focus in the short term on the late store hours on Thursday and Saturday evenings.”
Extended hours have been tried in the past, but McCormick says that this time there is a commitment to try it right through the summer, from now until September.
“You have to give something a long trial period to see if it works,” he said. “You can’t expect to see immediate results for something like extended hours.”
There will also be some entertainment offered during those extended hours. The First Saturdays program is another attempt to get some traffic into the Platzl.
“The DBA is putting together a wide range of things. Later on, once traffic builds, other things that require money will be looked at,” McCormick said.
Those things might include beautification of the back of the Platzl.
But the message McCormick wants out there is that things are moving forward.
“It’s been an extremely positive process so far,” he said. “We feel we are beginning down a path that will show results.”