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Staying hopeful and willing to help: car dealership owners respond to local lay-offs

‘There’s gonna be some panicking that’s gonna go on… and we have to be the calm’
Business at Central GM is continuing on as normal following the recent closure announcements and curtailments, said the dealership’s owner, Tom Bachynski. Raven Nyman photo.

Nearly a month after the community received word that three mills in the South Cariboo will lay off employees this year, some business owners in 100 Mile House are still working out how to process a potential economic shift in the community.

Leon Chretien has owned the Sunrise Ford dealership in 100 Mile House for eight years and lives in Lone Butte with his wife and two children. So far, Chretien has seen a definite decrease in business at Sunrise Ford.

“With summer traffic and seniors in the community, its not a complete shutting off of taps, just due to the time of the year partly, but anybody that’s reliant on income and working in the area is definitely feeling the concern and for some people, obviously, an outright devastation to their income and to their lives.”

Read more: West Fraser announces the permanent closure of Chasm sawmill

After placing an ad in the Free Press with an offer to provide support and refinancing options to customers, Chretien said the dealership has had little response and will be running the ad again.

“We’ve had some response but quite minimal actually. I think only four, maybe four people have come in and asked about it and what we can potentially do to help them. Some we’ve been able to help and a couple of others are just in a holding pattern. Once they got the information they are not wanting to panic and jump ahead or do anything just yet.”

Chretien said that the customers who did come in were there to see if a downsize should happen and have been trying to see how things play out, if they can find other employment, if they can continue to afford the vehicle they already have, or if they are going to need to “move ahead”.

“Just because it was such a big thing all at once,” explained Chretien. “It’s just information gathering for most people.”

Chretien said that he hasn’t personally experienced any massive market change since he’s been in the South Cariboo, but it has happened before.

“I think part of our thing now is that this is coupled with and a lot in part due to both provincial governments and policies and federal governments and policies. So, we’re already much slower due to the fact of bad federal political and economic climate and a bad provincial political and economic climate, coupled with the local devastation, which is really in most part due to the aforementioned political and economic stance that our two governments have taken.”

Despite the challenges Chretien is currently facing as a business owner, he still plans to help out his community.

“I think that I have to pull back on everything,” he said. “Other than my funding of Psalm 23’s addiction and recovery centre in 59 Mile. I think that while I can’t afford to be doing it, I won’t stop. But beyond that, there’s simply no money in the hands to be handing out.”

Despite not necessarily having the money, Chretien says he will “absolutely” continue to help the Psalm 23 Transition Society. He has donated to the organization since moving to the community and estimates that the dealership has presented more than $75,000 to Psalm 23 over the years.

“The community is resilient and we have always known that change is on the horizon,” said Chretien. “That wood supply would eventually be pinched to the point of mills closing. The time is now for us to rally together and do what we do well, as well as think outside of the box and look for other opportunities.”

As for what those opportunities might look like, Chretien had a few ideas.

“There is lots of money out there to be doing things that are more environmentally friendly and we can be reinventing ourselves whether it’s creating hemp wood, whether it’s creating solar products, wind products, pellets, a pellet mill. We’ve got the underutilized wood waste that’s sitting all over and more of it coming every day as we clean the forests.”

Related: Norbord’s 100 Mile location announces indefinite curtailment

Tom Bachynski, owner of Central GM, another car dealership in 100 Mile House, said business at his shop is continuing on as normal following the recent closure announcements and curtailments.

“Vehicle sales might be off a little bit from normal but we usually see a slow start to July because people get into vacation mode. It’s nothing out of the ordinary right now, in fact, the shop is probably busier than it has ever been.”

“I would think at this point we’re not pulling the panic button at all,” he added. “Business is normal, but we’ll see what happens two months from now with those closures, and I’m sure they will affect us. There’s a number of people that are not working and lots of businesses that will change, so I’m sure there will be an adjustment that will happen, but at this point, we just see it as business as usual.”

Not pulling the panic button doesn’t mean Bachynski isn’t being cautious, though. He said that Central GM may also have to cut back on some of their charitable work in the community.

We’re gonna have to curtail some of it I think for the short term until we see what it looks like. In the very short term, I think we’ll probably hold off a wee bit but we just have to see what the landscape looks like over the coming months. We fully anticipate to support the community as much as we possibly can, but we’re just like everybody else, waiting to see what it’s gonna look like.”

“It’s business as usual,” he concluded. “But you know, the duck that looks like it’s floating on the pond: its legs are moving pretty fast. So we’re looking through everything and our expenses to see if we can cut, where we need to cut, and how we can cut, if we choose to. We’re looking at our business plan and seeing if it needs to be remolded a little bit, but again, we don’t know what the landscape looks like so we’re not sure. I met with the staff three weeks ago and suggested that we just continue on with business as usual and help people as much as we can. There’s gonna be some panicking that’s gonna go on, that people are gonna have, and we have to be the calm. So it will carry on.”

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