Small businesses thriving in the District of North Van
Edgemont Village may be a secluded community in North Vancouver, but that’s exactly why it appeals to small businesses.
“It’s one of the only communities without a major road running through. You might not know it exists unless you happen to drive by,” says Marlene Tate, owner of Trims, a boutique selling high-end artificial flowers.
Edgemont is a close-knit community, she says, with many people preferring to buy from neighbours they know well.
“It’s like living in a small city. We have all the component parts to sustain our own community,” Tate says, referring to the bakeries, bookstores, salons, restaurants, fashion and gift stores.
Owning a small business can be tricky, but with loyal customers and unique, quality products, it can be rewarding, she tells The Outlook in her shop, freshly decorated for Halloween: shiny spiders, dressed up crows and her signature Witches of Edgemont that have been ordered as far away as England.
“We don’t have a website on purpose. You have to come in here to see what we have,” says Tate, adding face-to-face interaction is important so customers feel welcome.
The entire District of North Vancouver, not just Edgemont Village, is the place to be for small businesses, according to the provincial government. Last month at the UBCM conference, the municipality won Most Small Business Friendly Award for the Lower Coast region, beating other communities including the City of North Vancouver, West Vancouver and Vancouver.
The district says its success is due to recognizing the municipality is a “supply chain” for every business and it must provide competitive services, including reducing and streamlining regulations and improving customer service. The district, for instance, has signed onto BizPal, a more efficient online business permit and licensing system.
The district’s low business tax rate, which is below the regional average, is the main reason small businesses do well, said Naomi Yamamoto, minister of state for small business and MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale. The city of North Van, Vancouver, Burnaby and Coquitlam all have higher tax rates than the district.
“This tells me the district is aware of the importance of small businesses to the social health of the community,” says Yamamoto over the phone.
The tax rate in the district, however, is trending in the wrong direction, says Yamamoto. The property tax gap, which is the ratio between the commercial and residential tax rate, has risen from 3.32 in 2010 to 3.57 in 2011.
“I’d like to make sure the district keeps their eye on it, and ensures it trends downwards,” she says, adding there could be a threat of losing businesses to communities with lower tax rates like Chilliwack and Langley. Another key to thriving small businesses is suitable housing nearby, says Yamamoto, which is precisely why Tate chose to open Trims in Edgemont Village 22 years ago.
“People have a desire to shop where they live; to see the owners behind the counter,” says Tate, preparing to hang one of the Witches of Edgemont. She’s sold more than 4,000 since designing them four years ago.
The majority of businesses in Edgemont Village are owned by women, she says, giving the area a safe, community-oriented feeling.
“When the preschool stops by, we tell them if they’re ever scared, need a phone or have any problem, they can come in and tell us.”
Connecting with the next generation like this, says Tate, is the key to keeping any small business around for the long-term.