by Neil Pringle
I’ve been a resident of North Grenville since 1991. I attended North Grenville District High School, and, in 2009, my brother and I founded Pringle Brothers Construction. We have built many houses here in North Grenville, as well as additions and renovations. I married Kate Simpson, right here in North Grenville, and last year we purchased a house on Bedell Road, where we’re currently raising our 18-month old daughter Meryl.
I would like to address some trends which have become apparent to me. The first is the idea that, somehow, all Kemptville and area needs to survive is big box stores to attract new residents. These residents would presumably live here, work in Ottawa/Kanata, and be able to enjoy the conveniences of Wal-Mart, et al. Council went ahead full-steam with this idea, and Colonnade Mall is a tribute to their success. So are all the empty stores in Old-Town Kemptville. The problem is, big box stores, built away from what used to be the core of this community, means that nobody needs to actually enter Old Town Kemptville; and, unless you’re looking for a part-time minimum wage job, you can’t find a decent career here either. The mom-and-pop stores that used to thrive catering to this community’s needs cannot compete with box-stores, and so, in the last ten years, I’ve watched as nearly all the stores in “Old Town” Kemptville (which until the late 2000’s was just Kemptville) have gone under one by one.
The BIA and other organizations have fought hard to revitalize the downtown core of this community, sadly with less impact than I would hope for, due in part to some truly head-scratching decisions from our town council. I applaud their efforts, as I would like to see a thriving community here that values business owners who actually live here. A strong community is built on a solid foundation, just like a house, with all the components of the structure supporting each other, and our council is there to be the main support for our community.
I have never liked the idea of offering front-loaded incentive deals to corporations to whom the Kemptville area amounts to less than 1% of overall sales, but it seems our council can never see past the short term, and why should they? There’s always the very real possibility that in four years, or less, they’ll be gone, and whatever mess was made will be someone else’s to deal with. So why not front-load deals so your books can look better? You can claim success in balancing a budget that you know full-well will be unbalanced again as soon as the short term gains have been exhausted.
This line of thinking seems to be evident once again, as council has reportedly created a site plan for Hwy. 43 at River Rd. that includes a Starbucks. Just what we need, too, because we hate the people who run Brewed Awakenings, not half a kilometre from that site, and Geronimo’s, in the Old Town core, don’t we? The underlying problem is that large corporations kill small businesses. Will either of these businesses survive for long after Starbucks opens, becoming two more casualties for council to add, notches on their much-notched belts?
Hand-in-hand with this news comes council’s denial of a request for $2,500 to run a pop-up store campaign in the many deserted former businesses of Old Town Kemptville. These pop-up stores are an effort by the BIA to bring desperately needed foot traffic to the Old Town core, and make some use of the empty storefronts, hopefully finding enough success for some of those storefronts to be filled again full-time. This is a noble effort, but the price-tag is so high… wait, $2,500? Really? Oh, and by the way, those aren’t tax dollars, but money raised from the businesses in Kemptville.
Council has paid a lot of lip service to the idea of re-vitalizing the old town core of its community, and, indeed, a few years ago they tore up Prescott Street for a year to beautify it, which inadvertently crippled many of the businesses there. Yes, the street looks much better without the powerlines, and the tiny park on the corner of Prescott and Clothier is beautiful, but without real support for the people trying to compete with the corporations we begged to come in, these efforts are wasted. There’s lots of talk about being a family-oriented, unique community that blends modern convenience and old-town charm, but when the chips are down, the support from council is conspicuously absent. Shame on you, council.
Unfortunately, I can do nothing about the Starbucks, except vow to never, ever, ever spend $5 on a coffee there. I can do something to help the BIA, however, and so I put this challenge forward to you, my fellow residents and business owners in North Grenville. I will pledge $500 of my own hard-earned money to this pop-up store initiative, and I challenge each of you to make a real effort to support the local businesses here, by attending the events that are held in Old Town, and shopping there regularly, even when there’s no event going on, even if it’s just for a cup of coffee, where the profits from the coffee don’t go to Seattle. You see, I’ve made points about the lack of vision and leadership by town council, but the other half of the problem is us. It’s easy to point fingers or wish things were different, but if each of us doesn’t make an effort and support our local businesses, they will continue to disappear until there’s absolutely nothing unique about Kemptville, and it becomes another Kanata, Barrhaven, or any other faceless suburb.
I would like to thank you for taking your time to listen to my point of view, and I hope the points I’ve raised resonate with you.