Small business is the life blood of any community. This has become very clear in the last week just contemplating the terrible floods in High River. I was born in High River and spent all my childhood summers there so the impact of this disaster feels personal. Without the small businesses surviving, High River will not be able to rebuild. Many small businesses operate at such a marginal level of profitability that any stoppage of business — whether they are insured for such an actuality or not — may mean the end, with no possibility of starting again. We just have to look around our town to see the truth of that.
I grew up steeped in socialist doctrine, but I have come to realize the absolute importance of small business to societies the world over. I still believe that the government needs to be responsible for some aspects of society, but many of the things I value come directly as the result of small business. In the days before social programs small business often provided these services simply to help foster the community. My paternal grandmother owned a hotel in small town Alberta. During the depression no person in need of food was ever turned away from the hotel restaurant. My maternal grandfather was a doctor in High River before medicare, and sometimes he was paid for his services in pillows. Because they are such an important part of any community small businesses will often step up to fill these needs before anyone else. How could this possibly be construed as amoral?
Aside from serving as the major tax base of any small community, small business not only offers employment but they actually form the character of any community. I have many visitors throughout the year. Almost invariably they want to move to Nelson. They claim it is the “feeling” of the community. I think outside of the natural splendor it is the businesses they are responding to: the shopping, the restaurants, the arts. Even our claim to fame as an artistic, cultural hot spot is the result of many small businesses — theatre, music, all manners of tangible art are part of the business community.
One of the highlights of my many nieces’ visits throughout the year is walking to the corner store just blocks from my home. I am always barraged with offers of help: “Do I need anything from the corner store?” One of my most cherished childhood memories of High River is not just tubing on the infamous Highwood River, but the nightly walk to the “Little Bow” after supper to get candy. When I think of the tragedy of High River flooding I think mostly of those small business owners. What if they can’t rebuild? Most of their employees will be able to at least collect EI but what will they do? Maybe a city can forge ahead after a disaster with just large corporations, but rural communities are lost without their small businesses.