Over the August long weekend I was speaking with someone who oversees a local business, and asked how things were going. “Not good” was the answer in a nutshell. The August long weekend should have been the busiest weekend of the year, but business was down by an estimated 70 to 75 per cent.
Ask any area businesses, and I am sure they would tell you the same thing. In Ashcroft, many businesses were closed, or operating on limited hours, for a week after the Elephant Hill fire exploded on July 7: partly because the Internet was down, meaning they could not use cash registers and/or point of sale machines, and partly because highway closures meant that there were no tourists and no residents from nearby communities who would usually shop in Ashcroft.
In Cache Creek, the town was evacuated for almost 12 days, and businesses had to shut, then get up and running again. It is the same story in Clinton right now, which is in its third week of evacuation. Historic Hat Creek is under Evacuation Order; even when it was not, highway closures meant tourists could not get to it.
This was supposed to be a bumper tourism season, boosted by the Canada 150 celebrations that put Canada at the forefront of many travel magazines and websites “must see”, which said that our country was “the place to go” in 2017. Maybe other parts of the country are doing well; but not the Interior of British Columbia.
Much is made of many businesses’ reliance on the Christmas shopping season as a “make or break” time for sales. In our region, many businesses are seasonal; but they depend on the summer season, not Christmas. These are businesses that are, in many cases, just holding on; a good summer season can make them, but a bad one can break them just as easily, as we see with the Semlin Valley golf club, which has just announced it is closing.
And what of the cost to workers whose place of employment has had to close, or shorten its hours, meaning a loss of income for them? As I write, the Highway 97 corridor north from Chasm has reopened; but what of the Chasm Mill employees who live in Cache Creek and Ashcroft, who cannot get to work because the highway south of Chasm is closed?
I do not know who will carry out a study of the economic impact of the wildfires on our region, or how that impact will be measured; but I am sure the answer will be in the billions of dollars, due to income lost to businesses and to workers.
I’ve beaten the “shop local” drum here more than once, and have no hesitation in beating it again. Local businesses are the ones that are here for us, day in and day out. I understand the siren song of the big box retailers and chain stores in Kamloops; and while I know that some of them were here to support us (kudos in particular to Costco and London Drugs), they are not the ones suffering greatly from the recent wildfires.
Support our local retailers, many of whom had to close—or are closed—and by doing so support the workers they employ, who are our friends and neighbours. When Historic Hat Creek re-opens, go out and spend a day there. It will not make up for the catastrophic loss of business this summer; but it will go some way toward helping.