Pat Riley is a local business owner. She and her husband Allen purchased B.J.’s Donuts and Eatery in 100 Mile House almost 25 years ago. Raven Nyman photo.

Business as usual: local owners respond to recent mill closures

‘Forestry is not a forever industry’

Small business owners in the South Cariboo are moving forward with business as usual, despite recent mill closures and curtailments in the region.

Heather Brown has been the business owner at the Firehouse Diner in 100 Mile House for five years and says she is concerned for the community in general.

“It’s going to directly affect our business, there’s no way around that. It’s part of how these things go,” she said. “There’s going to be a trickle-down effect and in a lot of ways, it’s impossible to know what the effects will be right now. It [was] a week ago. We’re heading into summer so that will kind of mask things for a few months because we’ll have the usual influx of people that are only here in the summertime, so that will cover it up a little bit, but come fall, that’s when we’ll know exactly where everything’s at.”

Brown added that because hunting and hockey season will extend into fall, September is also a busy month for the town. She wonders if all families will be able to keep their children in hockey this year, though.

“All of that’s really up in the air right now,” she explained. “It’s an opportunity to look at what we are doing now and what we could do differently. Forestry is not a forever industry. It’s not renewable in the sense like how grass grows.”

Brown thinks the community of 100 Mile House should more closely consider economic opportunities as they come.

“I’m seeing references to things like prisons and cannabis growth and all the rest of it. These are all industries. Maybe you don’t like the idea of a prison but prison’s exist, there’s no way around them and people still come to visit their families and stay in your community while they’re visiting their family in the prison. There are all sorts of offshoots from that industry.”

Related: West Fraser announces the permanent closure of Chasm sawmill

Brown suggests that the community embrace change and accept what’s happening: “Move forward rather than trying to drag everyone else backwards. It’s our only way and I hope that the local government recognizes that.

Pat Riley and her husband, Allen, are also business owners in the community. They have owned B.J.’s Donuts and Eatery in 100 Mile House for 25 years.

The Rileys purchased their business in May 1994 and have been operating ever since. Pat is a red seal chef who has lived in the community since she was 10.

Riley thinks the recent closure announcements from Norbord and West Fraser will be really hard on the town, but says the community has always managed to pull through during tough times: “Things get slow, things pick up again, it’s all a cycle for sure.”

“I’m worried and I’m hoping that we can encourage people to stay in town,” said Riley. “This is a time to shop local and deal local. A lot of kids and younger adults that buy online, maybe they can stick around and buy stuff in town, that kind of thing. We’re going to need to do everything we can to help each other out.”

Riley thinks the whole community will be affected by the recent announcements from our local mills. She had to throw out many donuts in the trash after the most recent set of announcements went public last week, but since then, business has remained steady.

Riley thinks it was just a bit of initial fear or shock from the community.

“Nobody ever expected Norbord to say they were going to go down.”

For Riley, moving forward at B.J.s will mean conducting business as usual.

“We’ll be okay,” she said. “June is always our busiest month anyways. It’s about the same in general [this year], I haven’t actually looked at the numbers.”

Ken Thomas is another individual who has been doing business in the community for almost 25 years. Thomas has owned the Work N Play Clothing company since 1994. In that time, he has seen plenty of ups and downs in the local economy.

Related: Norbord’s 100 Mile location announces indefinite curtailment

“It’s cyclical it seems. The economy can slow down. We just make adjustments and do things to stay in business. Everything kind of balances out after a while. There are only so many dollars in the community and there are businesses that survive because of those dollars.”

Thomas feels for those who have lost jobs and says the situation is pretty serious for them. From a business standpoint, Work N Play will make adjustments as necessary, he said.

“We’re always making changes. There’s always challenges in business and this is just one more challenge.”

Thomas thinks that if there is an impact, the community will really see it in the coming months, closer to fall.

Colette Benz is in her tenth year as a business owner in the community and shares the feeling that we may have to wait and see how things play out. Benz is the owner of Colette’s Barbershop.

She thinks the closures and curtailments will be hard on the community, adding that she worries she may lose some of her younger clients.

“I wouldn’t want to be a young person today with that kind of news. It’s just so uncertain,” she said. “I’m getting a lot of feedback from a lot of people and they’re scared.”

Benz said things feel very “up in the air” and worries for those families who have recently settled in the area and may have to move following the closures. “I really wish the mills weren’t shutting down.”

Still, Benz remains optimistic. “Let’s hope our little community stays alive, that’s the biggest thing. I love this community. It’s a great place to raise your kids, a good place to retire to, and to work and live as a young family.”

“I’m going to try to be here for my clients and not give up,” she promised.

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