LAC LA BICHE - Increasing access for residents and visitors in Lac La Biche County to shop and enjoy the community’s business services during the evenings and weekends is the focus of a pilot program this year.
Lac La Biche County’s Economic Advisory Committee was established last fall and includes community stakeholders. The group’s aim is to research and find ways to support and promote both businesses and the community. Extending service hours past standard business times for the benefit of the community is one approach that’s being looked at, said committee member and County Coun. Lorin Tkachuk.
“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from residents that work until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. in their jobs and they have trouble accessing services like the hardware stores, clothing stores or anything like that if they need to get services outside of work hours. It’s something that I’ve seen for the past five years since I was elected to council.”
The project is currently being researched alongside Portage College, the Chamber of Commerce and the Community Futures office. The group is working toward collecting feasible information to support businesses' through the transition, he said.
“Basically, we’re trying to gather information to share with businesses to show them the benefits of opening different hours, and maybe not your standard 9-5,” he says, which if successful can also potentially help support the ‘buy local’ movement.
“They [shoppers] can go run to the store and then they can see the other products and services offered in those stores and potentially move away from... ordering online,” said Tkachuk, admitting that the goal is a stretch and requires more information. “That’s the hope. We're not really sure if it will help but we have to try.”
The idea has been experimented with before, with a few stores along Main Street taking part, said Tkachuk. In the past, businesses that opted to trial weekend operations said business was poor, the councillor explained, who also served as a board member for the local Chamber of Commerce, previously.
Moving forward, building community awareness of extended services requires more than a few businesses to participate in order to drive “traffic” down Main Street, Tkachuk explained.
“People aren’t coming into town because they don’t think anything is open, so if there was a larger number of businesses open during the evening or on the weekends, you might see more people coming into town and utilizing those services.”
Increasing local jobs
While the extended services have been a request among many frustrated community members, the topic is also related to job opportunities for residents, he explained. One of the results of extended hours is that students or residents who are available on weekends and evenings can seek employment.
“Another benefit that they would hopefully see is to attract a dynamic group of staff versus the people that are available only between 9-5 every day... People were having concerns of not being able to attract staff, and that’s another piece of this puzzle of changing to more dynamic business hours.”
Many part-time job opportunities in the County are limited to grocery stores and restaurants that are open in the evenings and on weekends, and those options might not interest some people, said Tkachuk. “Maybe they don’t want to be in the service industry at a restaurant but would have no problem working at the till at a store in town. That’s kind of where the conversation stemmed from originally.”
As the County is a major partner and has a vested interest in the economic development of the community, utilizing marketing campaigns to spread the message could be feasible, he said. But the success will require businesses to accept a cohesive plan.
“If a bunch of businesses all change their hours, having that [information] all in a consolidated place where people can see these new hours and see which stores are open... I think that’s the role we can play, bringing them together and helping them get the word out.”
With County-led initiatives over the years supporting a multi-million dollar Main Street Revitalization project, extended hours could also help promote a lively, active community in the area well past 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, Tkachuk explained.
“That’s the idea, that if we are making Main Street more walkable, accessible and vibrant looking, we also need the residents to be utilizing Main Street on the weekends.”