Bragg Creek grocery store owner sounds alarm

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Business: Importance of local shopping stressed

If Bragg Creek area residents don’t shop local, the owner of the hamlet’s only grocery store says it could put her business or others at risk of having to close their doors.

“If a grocery store can’t make it out here or is having difficulties making it, what is a gift store going to do, what is the restaurant going to do?” said Lori Gildemeister, owner of Bragg Creek Foods. “So yes, it’s a call to shop local. It’s a call to shop at the independents.”

She put out a call over social media around New Years saying she was at risk of closing her business because of residents in the hamlet and surrounding area who are buying their groceries in Calgary.

It’s not just about her or her business, said Gildemeister

She wants to raise awareness about the larger issue of encouraging residents to support local businesses in the community.

“If you don’t support them, you’re going to lose it,” said Gildemeister. “Whether that’s me or any other independent store out there.”

Gildemeister said business was fine two years ago, but things took a turn for the worse.

Gildemeister credits several factors to the business’ decline, from local shoppers buying groceries in the city, to the recession, higher taxes and rising wages.

She said her business benefits from tourism, particularly campers, off-roaders and motorcyclists. However, it was impacted by last year’s fire bans and a ban on off-road vehicles on crown land.

“I survive on campgrounds in the summer time, that’s what pays my bills so that I can get through to May,” said Gildemeister.

She said she understands why people may be shopping elsewhere.

“There’s a lot of others that are having to work harder, longer hours and if you’re going to spend an hour in rush hour traffic or an hour in a grocery store and then drive home fast, what are you going to do?” said Gildemeister. “I can’t blame them.”

She said another business might step up to fill the void if she closes her doors, but it probably won’t offer the range of products or services she does, such as a meat counter or full produce section.

She said things are looking up since she started speaking out. Gildemeister has seen more support from local residents and her landlord has been understanding and supportive of her and her business.

By speaking out, Gildemeister hopes people in the area will think more about shopping locally.

“We need some kind of local campaign that is directed at locals to support local,” she said.

Suzanne Jackett, president of the Bragg Creek and area Chamber of Commerce, said a grocery store is an important amenity in a community and a potential closure would have an impact. She said having a grocery store is vital for seniors or other residents who aren’t able to drive to Calgary for groceries or other basic services.

“You still need those services close in your community,” said Jackett. “You don’t want to be driving 20 minutes, half an hour all the time to get the things that you need. If that’s not there, it’s a huge loss for the community.”

She said the grocery store is the anchor for the shopping centre and it’s important for other businesses in the area.

Local residents and consumers need to think of a bigger picture to support and enhance the local business community, said Jackett.

Keeping basic services like grocery stores open also helps attract other businesses and investment.

“You’ve got to have some basic amenities for investors to want to come here and that’s a large issue for the community,” she said.

Jackett said about 5,000 people live in Bragg Creek and the surrounding area, including West Bragg Creek, Wintergreen and the area south of the hamlet.

However, the area’s population has been shrinking, said Jackett. She said growing the community and attracting new residents and development is also an important part of the solution.

“We simply need new people and we need more people and we need a variety of demographics,” said Jackett.

Ultimately, she said shop owners can’t just rely on tourists, something that is a conundrum for local businesses. Businesses need to be able to develop a variety of revenue streams, said Jackett.

“We’re so much busier in the summer than we are in the winter, there has to be something, you have to develop something, some source of alternative revenue to get you through the winter months,” she said.

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