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But over the years the inevitable has happened and we have seen typical brands creep in - TNA, Lululemon, Gap and more. Don't get me wrong, they are popular and people shop in them all the time.
That's interesting considering in 2006 a Whistler retail survey commissioned by the Resort Municipality found that visitors and residents alike supported character stores while big-brand stores were not the first choice.
The survey also highlighted the need for competitive pricing - so visitors wouldn't feel like they were being gouged. Many surveyed felt the price-point for food and goods was too high.
Community-wide recommendations included the creation of distinct retail identities, a rental strategy that offered variable rental rates by season, improved directional and wayfinding, non-retail anchors to induce foot traffic, increased seating and style of seating, and more programming. It also recommended "that no retail space be added nor any additional liquor primary licensing be supported," and lays out what the municipality can do in terms of policies and projects to enhance the retail performance.
The study also found that Whistler, in general, has a great deal of retail space. However, the space is not focused and is widely dispersed, with some areas being over-merchandized and some areas poorly anchored.
Interestingly, the survey predicted that the typical shopper would move away from being the destination visitor to a guest that was predominantly from the northwest of North America - how true. I wonder if the RMOW still has the crystal ball it used in the survey as it may be even more useful now as the community continues to chart the uncertain waters of a global recession.
As the resort moved through the Olympics, many retailers faced challenges over rent, a volatile tourist economy and sheer uncertainty over what business in Whistler is going to look like over the coming years.
Pique reports this week that some business owners feel that the municipality makes it tough to do business here. They are looking for less red tape and more support from the Hall if "character" stores and eateries are to survive.
Maybe we don't have the luxury anymore of being picky about who fills up vacant retail spots, or maybe we can't afford not to be selective as we try and work toward the winning combination for shoppers who come from both near and far.
What can be generally agreed upon is that community leaders need to engage the business community in charting the way forward, after all more than three-quarters of dinning and shopping expenditures are made by visitors. Maybe it's time for leaders to listen to the Business Enhancement Committee?