Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Extraordinary Time, Extraordinary Measures

It was a small post, not really something designed to attract a lot of attention but I saw it as I scrolled through my Facebook feed. No flashy graphics, no marketing hype – just a simple request from a local business asking for customers to support them. In some ways it was more a plea, really. It was an extraordinary post, but it is coming at an extraordinary time.


While it was not flashy it was certainly attention-grabbing as this small local restaurant is surely not the only local business concerned for their survival at this time in history. The economic downturn has hit us all in some way, and small businesses are likely some of the hardest hit as discretionary spending drops and they struggle to pay their employees, keep their lights on, and stay afloat as their revenues diminish.
For those who have been here as long as I have, or far longer, it is not something new. I recall after the last dip in our economic fortunes (one far less severe than this one) how I looked around when it was over and some of the businesses I had always valued were, quite simply, gone. The economic pressure and stress was too much for them, and some of the ones I had been quite loyal to quietly closed their doors and drifted away into memory.

For these business owners, though, it is incredibly painful. As someone who worked in small businesses for a very long time I know how the owners and staff devote themselves to these enterprises. These are often businesses that began as dreams and the owner was courageous enough to take their dream to reality. Losing a business for them is not just an economic loss, but the death of those original dreams.
When that last economic dip occurred I remember coming out of it and seeing those lost dreams and wondering what I could have done to prevent it. I recognized that some will fail despite all efforts, but I realized that if it ever happened again I would need to do whatever I could to help support those that had meaning for me.

For me right now that means shopping locally as much as possible. The lure of online shopping is omnipresent, but if I can support a local business I will, and if I can get something here instead of in Edmonton I intend to do that, too. The reality is that those big box retailers down in Edmonton can weather this storm, but the small local businesses don’t have the kind of clout behind them and they need our support to keep afloat right now. I have always enjoyed those trips to Edmonton, but focusing any spending I do locally is investing in my own community right now, and it is just one small thing I can do to ensure the viability of those businesses I would like to still see around when we do see an uptick in our economy.
For myself, the economic reality hit home when the weekly newspaper for which I have written for almost four years found itself unable to continue to pay freelance writers due to declining revenues (a common concern right now in the world of newspaper and magazine publishing). Content in the paper would now be generated by one person, a very competent one, but the paper would lose some of the community voices that made it unique and that had made me a fan of it in the very beginning. When the editor called to relay the news that I was, in essence, being laid off, of course I was disappointed and saddened, as the Connect Weekly has been a huge part of my life for the last few years. It was the first publication to offer me a regular place to write and a paycheque to go with it, and whenever I asked for more work (like when my personal life was turbulent and I needed something to occupy my mind) or less work (when I began a new career in communications), the people at Connect always said yes. Over the years the ownership of the paper has changed, as have the names of the people at the helm in the roles of editorial staff, but my feelings about the paper have never changed. It was the place that gave me a start, that allowed a novice writer to hone her skills while making mistakes, to develop her craft while occasionally bungling things and simply an opportunity to write. I knew it was a decision they had not come to lightly or easily, just as with all the businesses finding themselves in a similar position and that have faced difficult decisions during this time. What could I do to contribute in some way to help Connect, a paper that has come to mean so much to me, and far more than a paycheque, through these difficult times?

I called the editor and told them I would like to continue to contribute to the newspaper on occasion at no charge to them, providing one of those voices that would otherwise be missing and perhaps lessening their load just a little bit. I realized there isn’t much else I can offer – but if I can offer the skill I have and if it helps them in any small way then I will know I have done what I can to help a business that has over the years always been there for me.
Sometimes what we have to offer is not monetary in value, although it is a skill that can be monetized. I have always and will continue to offer to provide writing and editing services to social profit organizations that need the help, and I will continue to do so during this time when they are pinching those pennies ever tighter to ensure the maximum amount goes to those they serve. And on occasion I may offer to help those businesses I hold dear, with either my advice or my skills, because I want them to survive and because some day when they weather this storm I anticipate they will find themselves in the position to once again pay people like me even if they currently cannot do so. And I will spend my cash locally, supporting the businesses and dreams of my fellow community members. We are, in the end, in this together, and my primary goal is to see them ride out the storm with the rest of us.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Each and every one of us will determine what those measures mean to us and what we will do during this extraordinary time. For myself it means making those choices I know I can live with and feel good about, including my commitment to shopping local and giving of the skill I have to help others during this extraordinary time. There is no right and wrong answer during times like these, just answers that resonate with each of us and that allow us to feel like we are contributing to our community during a difficult time. Extraordinary times, my friends, are what build communities just like this one. This isn't the first and won't be the last we will weather - I am truly just grateful we have the opportunity to do so together.

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