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Chain store issue rises again

A Banff small business owner is pondering the possible demise of her operation – and she’s not taking it lightly.

A Banff small business owner is pondering the possible demise of her operation – and she’s not taking it lightly.

Susanne Gillies-Smith, owner of Banff Tea Company, believes the arrival of a David’s Tea chain store is imminent, along with the end of her own business.

Gillies-Smith said she heard through the local grapevine of the tea chain moving into an empty location around the corner from her Banff Tea Company.

“There is always talk about chainstores,” said Gillies-Smith, “but if this continues, locals won’t be able to live here anymore. It’s disgusting and I’m not going to take this lying down.”

In fact, Gillies-Smith is hoping to stage a protest at Banff Town Hall, Friday (Nov. 25). “I’m hoping to get a show of support that the town doesn’t want chain stores. I hope to get some concerned citizens together and maybe ask the mayor and council to speak.”

Gillies-Smith said her store is unlike other chain store offerings in that 25 per cent of her profits go to charity – donating to causes was one of the main reasons she opened her tea store.

Her store was opened in honour of her father, who, in 1959 with wife Joy, purchased the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House in Lake Louise. Gillies-Smith has been involved with the tea industry ever since.

Gillies-Smith is still active with her mom and sister in the Six Glaciers operation and five years ago she opened the Banff Tea Company, three years after her father Peter “was murdered on the side of a road in Mexico by banditos, there was a lot of media around that.

“People asked, are you angry? Do you want to take revenge? But I think people who would do that have to be incredibly unhappy. What kind of world are we living in?”

Instead of looking for retribution, Gillies-Smith opened another tea business with the idea of embracing community and helping others through fundraising for hospitals and animals and environmental organizations.

“I wasn’t expecting this at all,” she said. “It’s Banff’s mandate to protect unique businesses and have a balance of local and out of town businesses. If another store opened in Cascade Mall, I wouldn’t be so worried, but it’s around the corner. Chain stores should be there.”

According to Gillies-Smith, her tea operation is apothecary-style, where loose tea is chosen and weighed for each customer. “David’s Tea does the same thing, but it’s a chain, there’s nothing unique about it. We’ll even have the same distributor and brand names.

“I live here, I was was raised in Lake Louise and I’ve been involved with tea all my life. Eventually, I want to travel to countries where tea comes from and help out.”

However, should David’s Tea open in close proximity, Gillies-Smith said it’s not hard to look into the future and glimpse what would happen. “They’d drive me out of business. We’d be sharing a back alley and they can buy in quantities I can’t and eventually, they’d run me out of business.

“To me, I think competition is fine. I have nothing against David’s Tea, they run a great business, but this town needs to decide if we’re going to have to compete against chain stores.”

Gillies-Smith is also concerned that her four part-time, long-time resident employees could be adversely affected by the opening of a competitor nearby.

At this point, Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said the Town’s planning department has had an initial request from David’s Tea in regards to the process of opening a business.

“It has been a very preliminary correspondence with planning to ask some initial questions on having a business in Banff,” Sorensen said Wednesday.

The Town is expecting a report, possibly at the end of November, from the working group tasked, in part, with looking at the question of formula fast-food restaurants in Banff, as part of the Land Use Bylaw review.

“We will receive feedback from that group on formula-based fast food restaurants and what that group feels about further regulation on those. It would be perhaps not hard to extrapolate from that the bigger picture of formula restaurants and formula-based retail,” she said.

If further steps were to be taken, Sorensen said, it would be part of a larger process that includes the Land Use Bylaw.

The question of formula-based businesses – fast-food chains, restaurants and retail – continues to be difficult and complex.

“It is a topic that continues to surface and continues to be debated and there are more than two sides because every side has some variances within it, with different possible solutions,” Sorensen said. “It is by no means an easy question. From my perspective in my role I need to look at this holistically.”

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