By Korie Marshall
Moving to a new community can be daunting, and I think especially so if you are moving to a small community.
Communities have their own character (and characters) and being on the outside, not knowing the connections that are obviously all around you is sometimes uncomfortable. I know the first time I walked into a certain unique restaurant in Valemount, I was both surprised at finding a place with such beautiful character, and bewildered by the social atmosphere inside. Everyone seemed to know each other, they were all talking and sharing coffee and lunch. It seemed very relaxed, and just the kind of atmosphere I like in a restaurant – but I felt like I was outside of that circle.
It’s not that anyone said or did anything to make me feel that way; people were certainly friendly. But no one knew me, and I could easily have been someone just passing through. We certainly have a lot of people that are only here briefly, but if our continued existence as a community depends on bringing more people here, instead of letting them keep slipping away, I think we need to be conscious about being welcoming. Sometimes it is as simple as a smile and a nod.
Now, that restaurant may be one of my favourites in the world, because it stands out: it is simple and good quality, and it is not the same as everything else. But it is not my only local favourite, because we have a lot of character, quality and variety throughout the Robson Valley area.
I’ve worked in restaurants a lot, and I know that a restaurant is different from other types of businesses. You can buy food in many places, but a restaurant is selling you the preparation and clean up – and the atmosphere. Good restaurateurs know that variety and competition is actually good for business. There are many places where people intentionally put many restaurants close together – in hotels, mall food courts, certain street corners – because it draws a variety of people, and having choice makes people want to eat out more.
We have a lot of variety and choice in Valemount, and I think the best restaurants are the ones that have character as well as quality and consistency. And I don’t think that having more restaurants, whether in solid buildings or on wheels could ever hurt that, but I have a feeling there is a perspective I am missing.
Valemount may have a big opportunity on the horizon. This company, GITC, that has shown interest in the area says they want to bring people here to live and start businesses. If they do, some of the rumors of their ideas sound great, and will not be competition for existing businesses here, but I am sure some of them will be competition – for restaurants, rental property owners, and lots of other businesses. It might mean competition for our churches too, I am sure there is a good chance people moving here from the middle-east will follow non-Christian faiths.
If we as a community want to grow (and the other option it seems is to decline and continue seeing our residents either work away or move away), we really need to get our heads around the idea of competition being a good thing. We’ll need to embrace and welcome the change that may come, and I think that means understanding the thread of resistance that seems to be running through this community now.
It is still early in the process with GITC, but for some reason, I am especially sceptical about this one. I think the idea is great, but right now, it sounds too good to be true. The fact that the general manager told me she would call me but hasn’t makes me uneasy. They’ve made time to add our Village’s website to theirs, but not to speak publicly to the community, and that makes me suspicious.
Whatever happens with GITC, it is still true that growth in our small communities is going to mean change – and competition. It is going to require transparency and discussion, not just in social media and coffee shops, but in Council and in public. I know it sometimes takes guts to say what you think publically, but if you disagree with something, you should speak up, because if you don’t, we’re all missing part of the big picture.