My dad and stepmother recently visited some relatives in the community of River Hebert, Cumberland County. The recent closure of the local Co-op dominated conversation during their visit. A staple of the community for many years, the co-op could no longer sustain itself in River Hebert. The reason for the closure was attributed to a progressive loss of support for the store within the community. The purchasing habits of the residents changed. Many local residents working or commuting regularly to Amherst or Moncton started purchasing most of their groceries in the large centers. The convenience of a store within the community is now lost, placing a handful of staff out work while further contributing to the rural divide.

The story is not uncommon in rural Nova Scotia, where populations are aging while youth are leaving small centers for more urban destinations. The co-op in Middle Musquodoboit faced a similar fate a couple of years ago. And you may recall a time when service stations were situated in virtually every small community in Nova Scotia, enabling motorist flexibility to obtain fuel at frequent intervals. The landscape has changed where volume of fuel sales has defined the facilities that can survive, while others have simply closed or scaled back to a service-only facility. Consumers now must be aware of the location of the next available service station to avoid running out of gas in a remote area of the province.

The challenges facing brick and mortar style businesses are not confined to rural Nova Scotia. Within or own community, businesses are facing similar challenges. Individuals that commute for work have the opportunity to purchase their goods and services in the regions they work, while, the convenience and flexibility of shopping online continues to threaten businesses that have invested in traditional storefronts to display and market their merchandise. Convenience and the uncertainty offered by unpredictable store hours have often been cited for consumers migrating to the internet and/or picking up items at stores that are convenient to their commute or place of work.

When a business closes, consumers often lament about the loss, yet rarely reflect on the reasons for the closure. The environment that businesses operate in continues to evolve. Establishing relationships with your customers is important to sustaining the business in the changing landscape. Listening and adapting to consumers needs is fundamental. The experience will provide the creativity needed to support building a loyal clientele. The clientele will offer ideas to advance the business, supporting their needs, while further providing the network for new customers.

As we enter the Christmas shopping season, consumers will be offered a variety of platforms to fulfill their shopping needs. The importance of supporting shop local efforts cannot be overstated. Businesses that operate within our communities provide employment, contribute to the tax base and further support sports and cultural programs. Making the extra effort to explore the offerings of local merchants or even spending a greater proportion of your shopping budget within our community will help support a resident retain a job while further contributing to the sustainability of the community economically, culturally and socially.

Andrew Lake is President of the Truro and Colchester Chamber of Commerce. He is Project Manager with Will-Kare Paving and Contracting.