By Dan Walton
The District of Invermeres downtown is evolving to stay relevant as the Invermere Crossroads undergo significant development.
When Home Hardware originally moved out of downtown, people said that would be the end, said Justin Atterbury, District of Invermere councillor and owner of Rocky River Grill (located at the crossroads). But downtown is still doing well that space was almost completely filled by other businesses.
Mr. Atterbury said the district most notably beautifies the downtown through its many flowerbeds, but the bulk of responsibility lies upon the store owners to make their businesses enticing.
Mayor Gerry Taft, who owns and operates Gerrys Gelati downtown, said businesses have to find the right niches.
For example, by offering local art and food things that you cant purchase at Walmart or on eBay, he said. The old model of retail, selling the same stuff made in China, competing only on price, will be left to the big boxes.
Susan Clovechok, executive director of the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce, said Invermere has the capacity for both the downtown business area and the crossroads to succeed, but she would like to see the route between both shopping districts become more enticing.
It would help indicate to our visitors that theres something more, that that path leads to something.
By working in tandem, she said all of Invermere could become a more enticing market for those passing by.
I dont think it has to be a competitive issue, she said. The key is to find ways to draw people all the way through the downtown core.
Mrs. Clovechok said an increase in signage would attract more shoppers further from the highway, citing James Chabot and Kinsmen beaches and the Whiteway as alluring signage content.
Another way to retain drivers who peek into the crossroads could come through stronger promotion and beautification of the trail leading into the district, Mrs. Clovechok said.
We want a natural flow to get people to keep going and make it obvious that the trail exists, she said. Because it seems to stop something should be done to keep it going.
The Chamber operates out of the Columbia Valley Visitors Centre located on the highway, which, Mrs. Clovechok said, directs a significant amount of traffic into town.
People stop here and ask where to exchange money, grocery shopping, beaches; we direct a lot of people from this visitors centre into the downtown core.
Many of the large developments near crossroads realistically couldnt have been built anywhere else, she said.
We dont have enough land (in the district) to have a big business like Canadian Tire and No Frills, Mr. Atterbury said, adding that properties near the crossroads area are situated either on land operated by the Shuswap Band or the Regional District of East Kootenay.
It makes a challenge for the downtown because its created two business areas.
Asked why the crossroads hadnt been more heavily developed before five years ago, Mr. Atterbury speculated that the big businesses wouldnt have been as attracted to Invermere. He said the addition of large businesses (Canadian Tire and No Frills) come when a communitys economics and demographics will support them.
Each town needs a certain amount of traffic flow before a box store will build there, he said.
Many businesses in downtown Invermere are staying open later on Thursday nights through the summer. The districts events co-ordinator, Theresa Wood, has organized the Downtown Get Down and Evening Market, which runs weekly through July and August.
We thought that Thursday nights would be a great time to do that and add vibrancy in a time thats normally quiet, Ms. Wood said.
12th Street is cordoned off to vehicles between 5 and 8 p.m., allowing the crowd to enjoy the street market and sidewalk stage, which features local and nearby bands. There are about ten vendors who comprise the market each week, a number Ms. Wood says is expected to grow.