Tough economy and 'Olympic aversion' create business casualties 

Catering to consumer is key

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The Farmer's Market at Blackcomb and the annual Turkey Sale is exactly the kind of thing Carrell is talking about - events that started small, focus on consumer needs and draw a lot of interest during Whistler's slower seasons. Last weekend's Turkey Sale saw more than 20,000 square feet of shopping space packed with shoppers. Stores, hotels, restaurants and services that weren't directly involved with the event capitalized on the attention it garnered, offering their own specials and discounts to lure the wandering shopper.

A Whistler Blackcomb spokesperson said the number of guests that attended this year's Turkey Sale exceeded last year's. Trevor Flint, a manager at Evolution Whistler, said his store's numbers were up and exceeded 2009 sales.

"It was really, really good. It was crazy busy," he said. "This was definitely the biggest that I've seen. Saturday, Sunday, Monday we probably did $25,000 in retail."

Evolution had 253 individual sales during the Turkey Sale. On a normal autumn weekend they average 120.

Encouraging visitors to explore the Village Stroll hasn't ever been difficult - the wide boulevard beckons with a sparkly, come-hither cobblestone charm and that alone helps keep businesses in that neck of the woods running. But getting guests to shop in outlying areas has its own challenges - as is apparent in the number of for rent signs hung in windows in spaces off Village Stroll.

"The further you get from the mountain the more likely you are to see vacancies," said former Whistler mayor and Whistler Real Estate realtor Drew Meredith. "In other areas - Function Junction, Nesters - they are experiencing higher vacancies than certainly the village. Basically the number one contributor to that is a lack of business in the resort ­- occupancy in the hotels is too low to support this stuff.

"Beyond that this most recent meltdown in the world economy caused everyone to put their hands in their pockets and stop spending, so what's happened is that the commercial footprint is shrinking and so the good stuff at the centre of the target is OK, but as you move away into the not-so-good stuff - those are the people who are suffering."

Any long-term Whistler resident will point out that the current downturn in sales both in and out of the village isn't anything new and that the resort has always had its good years and bad. They'd also say that that autumn, like spring, is a difficult time for business, which makes paying rent hard. While the price of commercial rental space has historically been high in Whistler, an increase in the presence of national and international chains is an integral part of that expense equation - as long as landlords can secure stable and elevated rents from corporations who don't blink at the price tag, rates will remain high and sometimes out of the realm of possibility for smaller independent stores to pay.

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