So I’m headed to one of my favourite purveyors of fine meats in Nanaimo, my heart set on gourmet hot dogs, my wallet poised to pad the cash register of a homegrown operation. The dogs are good, but there’s also that sense of self-satisfaction that comes from buying local. Arriving, I note blessed little activity: there’s a conspicuous abundance of parking out front and the windows are dark. It’s Sunday. They’re closed.
Small businesses in Nanaimo—particularly downtown— often bemoan the lack of traffic in their stores, the lack of customers. They thrust their fingers northwards to the malls where cut-price big box stores with acres of free parking steal the shopping dollars that rightfully belong to local businesses. More than fields of tarmac and cheap socks, I’ve got one thing that’s guaranteed to send a customer into a rage of “never again” and drive them north: arriving at a shop during typical business hours and finding it closed. Once bitten, twice shy, and they’ll be back at the mall before you can say, “Open 8-8 every day! Air conditioned comfort!”
There was a time when Sunday was actually a day of rest for the masses. After church, Pa would play gaily with the children while Ma whipped up a pie and simultaneously covered the table in roasts and stuffings and four kinds of veg. Sundays were for home, fellowship, and feeding. The streets were quiet because Sundays weren’t for shopping.
Flash forward to the 21st century. Weekends—including Sundays and holidays—are play days. When people aren’t working, buying things and taking meals in restaurants, participating in the free economy, constitutes play. Sometimes small business owners forget this and hold on to the belief that they should have weekends, should be able to go out and play, too. But when you’re in business for yourself, the rules change.
If you want to keep your doors open, they’d better be open all the time and ready to receive customers. “I deserve time off! It’s not fair!” the small business owner is wont to cry. No, it isn’t fair, and I never got a pony for my birthday, either. Yes, small business owners work hard and deserve time off, but not at the expense of their business. Not if they want that business to thrive, anyway. If their budget covers staff to work that time off, great. But if it doesn’t, maybe their business plan needs work, or maybe everyone would be better off if they weren’t in business for themselves at all. “But it was always my dream to own this business; it’s a labour of love,” they say. To which I’ll respond with a reminder that it was my dream to have a pony, and then point out that they’re not in business; what they’ve got is a hobby. Hobbies rarely keep the family in hot dogs.
This is the world today—customers have choices, and more often than not the path of least resistance dictates those choices. If they can’t trust a business to keep reasonably typical hours, they just might go somewhere that does.
Hell, even provincial liquor stores are open seven days a week now. The pinch from the private shops stung, so they reworked their business model to accommodate Sunday openings. That’s government workers. Surely, if government can wrap their head around the idea, small town businesses can too.
The goodwill that comes with buying local and supporting small business only goes so far. I live a pretty full life so sometimes I can’t afford to plan my shopping around a store’s limited hours. Bless you, Mom and Pop, but you make it hard for me to support you. Don’t say I’m the one who needs to be more understanding, to try harder—it’s a tough world and I can only give so much. Once my nose is pressed against the glass, your door locked, I’ll probably move on to a large chain grocery store. That’s where I picked up my wieners. Enjoy your Sunday brunch.