Opinion » Maxed Out

The importance of keeping it local

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There's a fine line — at least in this community — between being a place where the locals shop and a place where the locals don't shop any more. The corporate bunglers of Buy-Low Foods, one of the tentacles of Jimmy Pattison's food empire, are dancing dangerously along that line. Nesters may be the ultimate victim.

Why? Because Buy-Low is a foreign corporation. Not foreign in the sense of offshore, foreign in the sense they're not of this community; they're outsiders. So why are they playing chicken with their future prosperity? Because despite the truthiness of the notion that corporations are people, they're not. They're collections of people, many of whom leave their humanity at home when they head off to work, forced by the terms of their employment to become drones they often can barely relate to themselves.

They are, in a very real sense, the Borg. They think — and I use the word loosely — in lockstep, if at all. They speak only when the words they say have been run through the PR and legal sanitizer, a process that strips language of any of its rich meaning and grinds words into the language equivalent of tainted hamburger, all in an attempt to hone and polish the "brand," puzzle the public and obfuscate any responsibility.

So what's happened? Despite its start in this community as a "mom & pop" store, growing up alongside Whistler as it morphed from regional ski town to international mountain resort, Nesters isn't that place any more. The place where locals shop isn't a place locals own. It's a cog in the Buy Low grocery machine.

There's nothing wrong with that. Ironically, it's one of the truisms and tragedies of Whistler's success. As the arc of our development has taken us through the entrepreneurial startup phase into a mature business, the people who rolled the dice and started retail businesses and restaurants are faced with a difficult economic reality. While they have a valuable business, they can't, in many cases, get their money out of it because no entrepreneur can pay them the true value of the business and grow it enough to make an economic return on their investment.

A parallel can be drawn to many of Whistler's early arrivals. If they got here in, say, the 1970s and were lucky enough to pull together the money for a residential lot and use some sweat equity to build their home, it's now worth enough that the likelihood they're going to sell it to someone like themselves is slim to none. When they're ready to leave, which many of them already have, they'll sell to someone looking to buy a second home, vacation home or retirement home, someone who's made their wealth outside this town and may, or may not, ever really call this place home.

In the case of businesses, often the only out is to sell to some larger business wanting a presence in Whistler or seeing value in the brand they're buying. This was the case with Nesters. The store enjoyed a solid, profitable reputation in Whistler and represented a hip, boutique brand for Buy-Low, which is why you see Nesters in Squamish and trendy downtown neighbourhoods in Vancouver.

And while the store seemed to transition comfortably, continuing to have that homey feel and being an outstanding member of the community — continuously agreeing to generous donations for almost any community group that asked, and several do every day — it was no longer a local store. It was part of a chain and many important decisions were made elsewhere, generally with the goal of increasing efficiency, lowering costs and increasing profits.

And that's why you may have recently noticed that for a few days there was less beef on Nesters' shelves than usual and everyone was tight-lipped. The corporate cone of silence was slammed down hard when the XL shit hit the fan.

Having XL as a supplier and being shipped potentially tainted beef was unfortunate. But it wasn't indicative of any wrongdoing. Nesters was as much victim as anyone else. What happened next was, however, fully within Buy Low's control. Sealing everyone's lips, at least to the press who, in this small town, were in the best position to help Nesters get out in front of this problem, was a tragic error. Buy Low seemed to think the best policy was to shut everyone up, leave us in the dark and hide behind meaningless corporate-speak

Dan Bregg, President of Buy Low tried to reassure us by issuing, yes, a press release. It didn't answer any of the questions submitted to him. What it did say was, "There is no other priority more important to us than that of food safety."

Well, guess what, Dan, we assume that. We don't for a minute think you're so unscrupulous as to intentionally sell tainted goods to boost your bottom line. Now talk to us about where you're going to source our beef and other food from. Where's it grown? Who's processing it? Is it safe? What exactly are you doing to make good on that priority?

Oh yeah, and while you're at it, lose the Big Brother act and let our local guys, the ones we know, the ones we do business with and play with and live with and trust and believe talk to us. We don't do business with you. We don't know you, we don't trust you and quite frankly, we're not sure we even like you.

We give Nesters our business because of the long relationship we have with its local, very helpful staff; they are our friends. Visitors go there because they believe if the locals shop there it must be good. If you don't understand how important that is, well, don't be surprised if you begin to see sales drop off because we'll be spending our food dollars elsewhere.

We're very lucky in this town. We have a number of wonderful food markets to choose from. All of them used to be locally owned; all but one still are. Believe me, Dan, we don't shop at Nesters because it's part of Buy Low and the Pattison empire. We shop there in spite of that. You may think it's your store but you are seriously mistaken — it's ours. And don't ever forget that.

You are lucky to have the staff you do at Nesters. Now let them run the store and continue to serve the community and you go back to whatever it is you do well. Oh, and by the way, Dan, communication isn't one of those things. When it comes to that, you suck.