With CIBC closure looming, Blyth residents meet - March 1, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
What started as a discussion about the future of Blyth in light of the village losing its school and possibly its only bank has led to a second meeting for further discussion.
Hosted by the Blyth Business Improvement Area (BIA) after its AGM on Feb. 22, the discussion brought together local business owners, stakeholders and residents to discuss the future of the village.
While some discussion was geared towards Blyth’s current situation with financial institutions, either keeping the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) branch that is slated for closure in September or bringing in a new institution, there were also several ideas discussed aimed at inspiring growth in the community.
“What can we do to attract another institute?” Crystal Taylor asked, likening the effort to bring a bank to the village to attracting doctors to an area.
Local business owner Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston said that media attention would help the issue as contacting individual banks could prove difficult.
BIA Past-Chair and commercial property owner Rick Elliott said that, before looking to getting a bank, the group should consider what services they are currently using and what kind of banking services they need.
“In the last two years, we’ve seen people get away from ATMs and start using their phone,” he said. “We need to decide whether that migration is something that will continue or whether there are still services that are important to the community.”
He said the village hosts many events, and, because of that and because of the businesses downtown, a night deposit system is likely very important. Being able to get change is also important.
Irene Kellins of Stitches With a Twist said that a byproduct of the petition created to keep CIBC in town was that she now had a better understanding of what people want in their banks.
“A large number of people said they like face to face interactions,” she said. “They are not ready to trust electronic banking. They want to walk in and talk to people and that’s what they are looking for.”
Chris Lee of Walton, former president of the Walton Raceway who is currently involved with the Goderich-to-Guelph Rail Trail (G2G), said contacting the banks might be a good way to go. He suggested a regional manager with a local credit union to start.
Elliott said that, in talking to the banks, the conversation would likely be focused on deposits.
“We have to support our banks and drive as many dollars into the local economy as we can,” he said, expanding on that idea by saying locals also need to support Blyth’s grocery store, post office and other businesses. “We can’t push money out of the community anymore. This is the result.”
Blyth ratepayer Patty Kellins said that, with a proposed development at the north end of the village focused on seniors, a bank would need to know that they are going to have face-to-face customers. She said that CIBC may have made the decision to close long before that development became public and that kind of information may change the situation.
“We have to make whatever bank we’re looking at aware of that growth,” she said. “Things have changed a lot here in the last two years.”
Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt said that the better plan may be to focus on what will bring people to the community which will attract a bank instead of trying to attract a bank.
He likened the situation to one in Goderich where a physician recruitment board had attracted 18 doctors to the lakeside community.
“They didn’t talk about hiring [when asked how they managed the feat],” he said. “The committee talked about what the community has with the library, the pool, the YMCA and other factors that encourage people to live in the community.”
Reeve Neil Vincent said the bank was fighting an uphill battle with trying to have counter interactions with customer. He said that, with federal and provincial banks and even North Huron using online and other digital methods for bill payment and delivery, there wasn’t as much money going through the bank or mail through the post office.
Peter Smith, Blyth 14/19 Manager, said that banks may be a sunset industry and it may be a difficult thing to fight.
He said that Blyth’s use of the bank has likely gone down with Sparling’s Propane being sold and that the issue needed to be dealt with.
Irene said that not having a bank was a tough proposal for people in Blyth as transportation was always a problem and there is no public transportation. The sentiment was echoed by Lorie Falconer, a local accessibility expert who said accessibility can be a selling point, and Garratt, who said some of the artists who come for the Blyth Festival don’t have transportation or a driver’s licence.
The group decided to form a committee of people who could reach out to banks to try and decide what was important in having a financial institute in the village. The group also decided to meet again in approximately one month’s time.
Part of the discussion turned to supporting local businesses in general, as Allison Elligson, an employee of Part II Bistro, said the community needed to support all local businesses.
She talked about the problems facing small businesses, and said that, while suggestions of incentives and local events were great, Blyth locals need to patronize local businesses to keep them alive.
Sarah Gusso, part-owner of the bistro, echoed those concerns, saying that the decision to close their restaurant until Mother’s Day in May was a very difficult one to make, but one that made sense.
Triemstra-Johnston said that local businesses feed off each other and she was struggling with whether or not to open a storefront of her own for her costume company, Pick-a-Posie. She said if the Bistro wasn’t open, it meant less customers seeing her shop, and vice-versa.
Elliott said that poor snow removal, especially this winter, had an impact on the community and likely had an impact on local business.
“To put it plainly, snow removal this year sucked,” he said. “We can’t maintain the integrity of the community with that level of service.”
Elliott said he was shocked to learn snow removal is only done every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Others at the meeting said even on those days, the snow removal starts late or seems to not happen at all.
Queens Bakery co-owner Les Cook shared a tale of a customer who had to crawl through snowbanks to get to his restaurant, saying it wasn’t not something that should happen.
“We’ve built this community so people know they can come here,” Elliott said. “The businesses can’t cope without a level of snow removal that enforces that notion.”
Snowmobile operators using the sidewalk was also discussed as a barrier to local businesses as the recreation vehicles cause dangerous situations on the main street, are likely having a negative effect on infrastructure and shouldn’t be travelling down the walkway in the first place.
The petition organized by Irene and Patty Kellins was brought up throughout the discussion. The duo revealed the efforts of the group had found 352 signatures and that number was increasing.
Patty said that, if what had been reported by Reeve Neil Vincent was correct and counter service fell sharply recently, she wondered whether the ATM service had increased.
Patty said she planned on continuing to ask these questions of bank representatives whenever she contacted them in hopes of finding more information.
Lee shared a good news story for the village: the G2G is hosting a special cycling event on the July 1 weekend.
Lee said that the event will see cyclists start in Guelph and end in Blyth, taking the trail on the former railway.
Lee said riders will stay overnight in Blyth one or two nights depending on how quickly they make the trip, bringing 150 people into the community. He also said that special events were being planned for the cyclists to get them outside of Blyth.
BIA Chair Karen Stewart said that is a project the BIA marketing committee will look at and could treat similar to the annual Reunion of the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association. She said that a welcome package could be created including a map to guide cyclists to the downtown.
Anyone interested in the program can contact Grace Vanden Heuvel at firstname.lastname@example.org