Friday, March 19, 2010


Today I heard something really interesting, something truly inspiring. I heard that the town of Tofino BC, a Vancouver Island town that receives up to a million tourist visitors every year, is about to enact a by-law prohibiting big box stores and fast food outlets from setting up shop. Such a thing is possible because they don’t have to throw any stores out. Even though it’s already 2010, they don’t have any box stores or fast food outlets because for several decades the discouragement of chain outlets has been part of their municipal vision.
I think I might have to join the million annual visitors heading for Tofino, even though the weather, by all accounts is wet and generally lousy. Most of them go there to surf, to watch whales and migrating shorebirds. And even though I love a sunny vacation, will never mount a surf board and find watching birds and whales to be occupations beyond my ability, I think I might have to go to Tofino, just to experience the surprising novelty of it all.
I can picture it now. There I’ll be, wanting a Tim Horton’s and having to discover the delights of a local coffee shop, craving the fragrance of Canadian Tire and having to settle for an afternoon of hanging out among the nuts and bolts in an ancient hardware store. What an experience! Something you can’t find anywhere! Imagine that!
Though the big cities sometimes seem like clones, I think it’s the little cities that have suffered most from our chain-store obsession. Every one of them is now a mirror of the others. Even the museums are virtually identical. The highway in takes you past Superstore, Canadian Tire, Costco. You stop at the fast food restaurant you patronized in the last town on the highway and order the same thing you ordered yesterday from a menu you’ve memorized. In American cities it’s the same scenario, different businesses. In the heart of each of these centres there is a sad old business district trying to be an historic tourist area. The former shoe store now sells candles. The former hardware sells sunglasses. The former drugstore is a candy store. Almost any business that is not a chain is either posting a shiny new sign, or an older sign not taken down when the business closed last month, or last year.
I might have to visit Tofino, might need to check on the mental health of its citizens. I’ve heard that, when a major event is on, most of the businesses close so the owners can attend the event. They also feel free to close when the owners need a vacation. With no chain stores to set the frenetic pace and steal the business, the locals can do whatever suits them. Could this be madness, or might it be a very healthy trend?

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