The B.C. Small Business Roundtable has recognized Nanaimo as one of six small business–friendly communities in the Province. The award recognizes local policies, projects, and programs that make it easier for small businesses to operate.

“The City of Nanaimo is committed to making it easier for small businesses to operate,” says John Ruttan, Mayor of Nanaimo, in a press release. “Today’s announcement is reassuring evidence we are on the right track as a community in terms of creating bylaws and processes that allow small business owners to get things done.”

Jean Lemieux, owner of Sound Heritage on Victoria Crescent, says “if you can make it in Nanaimo—you can make it anywhere in Canada, with a bit of luck of course.”

Lemieux works nine hours a day and six days a week selling vinyl records, CDs, and stereo equipment. He says that he does have part-time staff in case he is sick or overworked but “the job market as it is in Nanaimo, one almost has to do his own business to do a living.” He says that filling a niche market has helped him develop his small business over the years, and that working within a niche market has helped him stay afloat.

Lemieux says that he believes the city is doing a good job to alleviate tension for small businesses in downtown Nanaimo. “They’re addressing the parking issue pretty good…they’ve renovated the downtown quite well…they’ve policed it. They’ve done a good job to promote the downtown and the city in general. I think they’re on their way to create a good climate for small business.”

He concludes that he still faces challenges as a small business owner but tries to make the best of his work. He adds that the city could help small business owners by working in tandem with the property owners. “If they could touch with the owners of the individual properties that the businesses rent. Sometimes they could need a break. And they might need renovations in their own buildings. It’s in the owners best interest that the businesses that are renting from them to survive as well.”

Katie Shaw, a salesperson at Buckle My Shoe on Commercial St. says that business in downtown Nanaimo is very limiting due to space issues and high rent costs. “We are very limited…and there are not a lot of shops along here so I mean affordable rent for businesses and such and initiatives to actually open a smaller business would be good.”

Shaw says that it is especially difficult for small businesses in the north end to contend with big box stores such as Winners and Costco. “The north end is just so consumed with box stores that it’s hard for a smaller business to compete with something like that. I think that’s why our smaller businesses have sort of all conglomerated down in the south end of Nanaimo which is nice. Everything’s together…and when you’re wanting that atmosphere it’s definitely down here.”

She adds that spring and summer were quite difficult seasons for Buckle My Shoe to make sales even with the arrival of cruise ships. “We definitely have the traffic but I wouldn’t say that it necessarily increases sales based on [cruise ship passengers] alone.”

Shaw concludes that the City could make downtown more small business–friendly by making it more accessable to shoppers through increased transit routes. She adds that some customers might feel safer downtown if foot patrol security was increased. “If [the City] could provide security for the business owners and accommodate the shoppers themselves in terms of a foot patrol [service] to keep the people who just seem to wander around panhandling away from the businesses [would be] helpful.”

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