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Powell River store owners compete for sales

Retail outlets encourage shoppers to buy local instead of online
SHOPPING DAYS: Some Powell River businesses are reporting a drop in Christmas shopping revenue from last year. For most, one big reason is online shopping. They say their message is to buy local. David Brindle photo

With the countdown to Christmas underway, some of Powell River’s retailers are hoping for last-minute holiday sales after seeing a decrease so far in local shopping.

“Sales are definitely down,” said Powell River Outdoors owner Sam Sansalone. “We all get worried that sales are down, but generally in December it picks up quite a bit.”

Rob Reed, owner of Rockit Music, where sales are also slower than last year, and Sansalone agreed that one reason for the sluggishness is the same for local and global businesses:
online shopping.

“I’ve done my homework,” said Sansalone. “I see the product that comes in after the fact, because we either have to show people how to use it, service it or it’s not the right thing.”

Similar situations arise at Rockit Music. According to Reed, some people just prefer not to shop in stores.

“What we get quite often is people coming down, trying the product out and then buying online, even though we’re the same price as anybody in Canada,” he said.

Online shopping can be convenient around Christmas. If weather is a factor, purchases can be made in the comfort of home and delivered directly to the recipients.

However, online shopping can also be local. In some cases, the money stays in town and circulates throughout the local economy, which is the business model for Canadian Tire stores.

“Our online shopping with Canadian Tire is still shopping local,” said Michelle Hodgkinson-Kristof, owner/operator of the national chain store in Powell River. “The customer will purchase something online and the local store that receives the product for the customer, or where the customer picks it up, actually gets credit for the sale, so online shopping is still shopping local.”

Hodgkinson-Kristof said her Christmas sales are positive so far this year.

According to Canadian Federation of Independent Business, local shopkeepers, restaurateurs and retailers, service providers and professionals spend their dollars in the community, paying for salaries, supplies, rent, taxes and utilities.

“Our rent doesn’t change,” said Sansalone. “Our bills don’t change, but sales go down. First thing is the staff gets cut; you have to start cutting.”

An advantage local businesses have over national retailers and “big box” stores is knowing what people want.

Armitage Mens Wear owner Ron Armitage has been in business for 27 years and said online shopping has not impacted his store. His holiday shopping sales are up this year.

Armitage said he attributes it to “listening to our customers, figuring what they want and getting the stuff in that they’re looking for.”

December is a significant month for small businesses, when a substantial amount of annual revenue is made, which is necessary to weather the slowdown in shopping during the first quarter of the new year.

“Luckily, a lot of businesses in town have been here for a long time; they have their core following, which is great,” said Sansalone. “That’s what keeps us going and that’s why we appreciate it. It’s important to keep those people. Another good thing for Powell River is that there are a lot of new people in town and they really support local business.”

According to City of Powell River manager of economic development Scott Randolph, it is important not to underestimate the impact of shopping local in December, or any month, for that matter. Randolph said new residents are attracted to Powell River, in part, because of a thriving small business environment.

Sansalone and Randolph said this is also a time of year when local businesses contribute to the region’s economic health through community involvement.

“The small business sector contributes heavily to community organizations, events and clubs,” said Randolph.

Sansalone said local charities and organizations do not go to Vancouver Island for donations and Vancouver Island businesses do not do much for Powell River.

“People have to realize when you go to the hockey game and watch the Powell River Kings, you’re not cheering for Campbell River,” said Sansalone. “You cheer for your town; why not shop for your town?”