Small business: A hot topic at my meeting

The Chai restaurant on Bayview Ave. recently ceased operations, marking the eighth business to close on the street in less than six months. This has led concerned shop owners to speculate that a recession could follow.

More than any other area in Don Valley West, Leaside respects its heritage and small town sensibility. Its retail shop owners and restaurant managers enjoy as much of a personal relationship with their customers as they do a professional one. Their kids attend the same schools, places of worship and sports centers.

When I was first elected, I visited favourite restaurants in Leaside, just because they were wonderful places to touch base with neighbours and talk politics.

Continuing in that tradition, in March I held my second annual Leaside Business Breakfast at Corks Restaurant in Longo’s with the Hon. Tony Clement, president of the Treasury Board, where we discussed our government’s support for tax cuts and the reduction of bureaucratic red tape for small business owners.

While the weather outside may have been cool and rainy, inside one of the hot topics was whether small businesses in Leaside have a place in the land of Laird’s big box retailers.

My answer was an unwavering yes; however, as a former small-to-medium sized business owner, I know that you’ve got to attract customers. They don’t come on their own.

A great method is to invest in promotional events, such as street fairs featuring music, food, and flyers. Yonge St. recently had a very successful one where the pride of retailers was on display, from burger shops to candy stores.

Last year, the Rotary Club organized Bits and Bites on Bayview. Due in part to poor weather and limited manpower, it failed to meet expectations, however I hope it has paved the way for similar events in the future.

Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) are another effective way to attract customers, so long as owners work together to drive enough excitement to form them.

As a former car dealer, I couldn’t team up with another dealership, but I would have given my right arm for a BIA. These create an environment where businesses can come together to discuss issues of concern and create a greater retail environment, as well as to support one another.

That being said, a BIA won’t keep a business that’s struggling alive, and the cost may be prohibitive.

The challenges facing small businesses are great and the solutions far from easy. It is vital to remember, though, that the contribution these businesses make in job creation and community enrichment cannot be overstated.

Article written by John Carmichael, MP Don Valley West.