May Days a vehicle to bring residents back to the community Merchants’ association says Whistlerites may not recognize their own town By Paul Andrew Although this long weekend’s inaugural May Days celebration will be ripe with activities such as live music, prize packages free transportation during the day and in-store draw prizes, organizers are really hoping locals re-discover their town. Whistlerites who have given up on trying to utilize shops in the village or who haven’t been to the industrial park in years are being invited to come back to these areas and have a fresh look at what’s happened to Whistler during the last five years. Some of the changes, such as the expansion of Function Junction and the addition of Whistler’s Marketplace, may be obvious. But the 18-month-old Whistler Merchants Association has hired Sally Carmichael to co-ordinate a hectic schedule of events during the weekend with the hope Whistler will indeed get to know the community from a fresh perspective. "What we did was send out a fax to all the Whistler Resort membership," Carmichael said, "to rekindle relationships between the merchants and the locals. Because over the last five or six years, locals have been shying away because of all the visitors. Some people just make a choice to go elsewhere because it’s much busier now and harder to get around." Carmichael says the hope is locals and Vancouverites who own homes in Whistler will go to the shops in Function Junction, Town Plaza, the Upper Village and out to Green Lake in addition to the village, Whistler Creekside and Marketplace to "re-educate" themselves about Whistler. Carmichael said both Vancouver and Victoria have had successful campaigns similar to May Days, which let residents be tourists in their own town. "The passport for free transportation during May Days is a really good idea here because some people just wouldn’t be able to get out to places like Function," Carmichael added. "Plus it’s a great excuse to leave your car at home, and gather stamps from each area for prize packages." Dave Davenport, a Whistler business owner and resident for 12 years, said he understands why some people in the valley might have become jaded by the pervasive hustle and bustle of Whistler, and the impression that businesses are serving tourists first and locals second. Davenport, a member of the Whistler Merchants Association, owns five businesses in Whistler and he doesn’t see it that way. He says he thinks many Whistlerites have simply given up on their own town. "Really, I think the intention is to get people to go back into their own backyard," Davenport said. "Just to recognize that people in Whistler — and homeowners in Whistler who come here for the weekends — haven’t been looking at the changes." Davenport says the reason for the sometimes cynical attitude about Whistler comes from the impression it’s an expensive place to shop. And the main village, which was originally designed to bring locals and visitors together, has become too crowded and tourist oriented for some long-term Whistler residents. "But a lot of that isn’t true," Davenport said. "A lot of people don’t even know we have a Body Shop in Whistler. Oh, I know that the Park Royal exists in Whistler," he says about people choosing West Vancouver over local shops. "So what we’re seeing is a limited choice in Whistler because of a limited market. Unless we get out there as merchants to see what people want, we won’t know. So this weekend isn’t really a time for people to buy things but to talk to merchants and see the insides of the stores they didn’t know were there." Davenport says there is a misconception that May Days is all about re-introducing Whistlerites to Whistle Village. However, he says an alarming amount of people have never ventured into Function Junction, and regularly bypass Whistler Creekside and Nesters Mall. "That’s not to say the centre-core is not part of it, because it is. That (Village) Grocery Store and the liquor store are doing exactly what they were intended to do. It has a lot to offer and it’s tailored to the Whistler market. "But I think it’s interesting that Intrawest will be in Creekside for a presentation. It’s been hard to follow what’s going on there and this is a great opportunity for that. Plus, the passport thing will help people get around." Davenport says he knows parking is an issue for locals and it is one of the thorns in the sides of residents who wish to use more popular areas such as Whistler’s Marketplace. But the Merchants’ Association, which represents more than 70 businesses, will be happy if the three-day May Days celebration achieves a positive word-of-mouth situation. "I think if we bring 1,000 extra people out for the weekend, maybe 400 will like what they see. What I hope from this weekend is people to be shown something really cool and they will spread the word."