The closure of another high profile business in Whistler two weeks ago should give everyone reason to pause and reflect on the state of the local economy.
According to one veteran observer of the Whistler scene, more than 30 local businesses have closed so far this year. Grinders, which had two locations in Whistler and another in Pemberton, was only the latest.
Businesses fail all the time. With the state of the provincial economy and two-thirds of the world’s economies in recession, perhaps it’s not unexpected that there are business failures in Whistler right now.
But maybe it’s also time to look in the mirror. How many locals go into the village — beyond Marketplace — on a regular basis any more? Do we stay away because there’s no parking, it’s too big, too crowded? Have parts of the village become rundown? Is the service poor? Or is it just easier to get what we need elsewhere?
Whatever the answer, the village has become a different place from what it was originally intended to be — a place where locals and visitors gathered together. The shops and services surrounding Village Square, the first section of the village built, were carefully selected specifically for this purpose.
But Whistler has changed. For many years, up until the early ’90s, it was unheard of for there to be vacant retail or office space in the village — and retail space outside of the village was a waste of time. Now, there are some retail spaces in the village have had paper on the windows for years.
The rapid development of Village North opened up opportunities for many new businesses in Whistler. Some people jumped in without doing their homework, taking too much space, overestimating the market, or getting stung by the exponential growth in retail space and competition while resort visitors grew at a more modest rate.
Many of those businesses of four and five years ago which saw Whistler as an easy place to make money have since left, a little poorer and a little wiser. But there are still failures today, and not all of them are due strictly to poor business decisions or the present poor economy. We should be asking why and what can be done about it.
There may be as many reasons as there have been failures, but there are also some common denominators. For instance, there used to be just A space and B space in the village. Now, according to some retailers, there’s A space, B space, C space and D space. What may have been a good retail location four or five years ago is now a dead zone. Some spaces that look like they would be prime retail areas are separated from pedestrian traffic or hidden behind pillars, walls or trees. In some instances perhaps landlords have to reconsider what they are charging.
Eventually the economy, locally and internationally, will come back. And in the long term demand for retail goods and services locally is expected to again meet or exceed supply. But Whistler today is a more complex place to do business than it was even a few years ago. Nearly 15 years of constant growth is coming to a close, as many in the construction and development business have realized. The next phase of Whistler’s economic cycle should see more moderate but perhaps also more stable growth. As consumers, business people and policy makers we should be planning accordingly.