In the 1920’s and 1930’s almost every hamlet in southwestern Ontario had a general store. Everyone went there for their groceries, dry goods, clothing, hardware, house wares, and just about anything they needed. Then along came the automobile and folks could drive faster and farther and department stores opened in the towns and villages with a larger assortment of goods, offering credit and prices that the mom and pop businesses could never match. Since those days, more than eighty years ago, our rural communities have been in a decline.
Today merchants in communities like Rodney, West Lorne and Dutton have seen the loss of the locally owned newspapers, the feed mills, the flour mill, the egg grading stations, the big family owned and operated grocery and department stores, the jewelers, the haberdasheries and I could go on. Main Street everywhere in Ontario is struggling as the large chain stores and big box stores multiply like rabbits. Sure, it isn’t just the competition from those retailers that have contributed to the demise of these businesses . . the economy and unemployment have had a great impact as well.
The past couple of years here in the western end of Elgin County we felt the loss of automotive related employment and agriculture has suffered as well, so when the service centres, one of the largest employers here, closed for renovations for almost two years, the retailers in the downtown cores in all three communities felt the devastating blow. Some shrug as if this doesn’t affect them but if you have children, who employs your teenagers? . . . who sponsors the various sports teams? . . . who donates to local fundraisers? . . . who advertises in the programs/newsletters? . . . who supports the fairs and the Santa Claus parades and all the other special events we have come to consider part of home? . . .the small businesses.
I’m not trying to tell you this is the end of our own little corner of the world . . but it could be. The big, bad corporations are trying to muscle us out of business. This is our home and it feels to me like we are under attack. If you shop in a mall there are always the same stores in at least a dozen other malls, all exactly the same with rows on rows of the same products. Owner/operator shops like we have here in western Elgin are totally unique. Each proprietor imprints his/her own individual style, products and ideas, making their business a one of a kind. Those businesses need our help. We as consumers have a great deal of power.
We have the power to turn the tide, to stem the flow of our dollars to the big stores and the big city. By shopping locally we don’t have to spend money on fuel; waste time on the freeways or in the parking lots fighting the crowds and queuing in long line ups at the check out. We can walk. We can not get caught up in the frenzied lifestyle of the urbanites and we can slow down and enjoy the special season here at home in the country with our neighbours and friends. We can live in the moment.
Village Crier Gallery, Dutton