Earning the right to be considered a local

Fitting in to a small community requires loyalty, persistence, desire and a sense of the character – and characters – around you

POWELL RIVER, B.C. Feb. 5, 2017 /Troy Media/ – When you move from the city to a small town on the B.C. coast, you become the beneficiary of many gifts. Some take awhile to acknowledge and some are obvious straight away.

To start with, everyone you do business with makes more of an effort than they do in the city, where retail anonymity rules. In a small town, there’s a much bigger effort to smile, to get to know you by name, and to pay attention when things don’t work or need to be returned. This happens because often there are only a few competitors, whom you soon learn about, and attracting and keeping your business is well worth the effort.

For example, our town has three small boat engine repair businesses and I have learned to deal with one. The proprietor, Jeff, knows me as Mike. He knows the name of my boat, where I store it in winter, where I tie up in the marina, where I cruise to and what problems I’ve had since we bought the boat. He makes marina calls, waves at me when he sees me in town and is a superb mechanic. I’ve never had a business friendship with a mechanic in nearly 60 years of city life. For the past six years I’ve had one in Powell River.

Similar loyalties lie with the town’s only butcher store, the Chopping Block, Rene’s Pasta, Snickers Restaurant and Rocky Mountain Pizza – all family owned and run. Each has an unique character. Rene is a master French (actually Tunisian-French) chef, and his custom-made dessert specialties are appreciated from Saltery Bay to Lund. Rib Night, held each Wednesday at Snickers, is famous at our house, especially with friends from out of town. Rocky Mountain’s old dining room tables, their low-key approach to you setting up your Wi-Fi office, and their home-baked muffins and soup are equally well endorsed.

Quality Foods gets all of our non-meat food budget, and the B.C. government liquor store sells us most of our wine. We buy gas for our truck and chainsaws at Chevron, and we buy our Ford F150s (every 10 years or so) at Westview Ford Sales from Neil. Brian Henderson and his construction crew built our house and they’re the best builders we’ve ever known. Period.

The point of all these learned references and cumulatively good experiences is that it works both ways. You get sized up, too. And it takes a while to fit in. Or more to the point, to fit in unobtrusively, simply because you really do.

Last week, I had an experience that indicated that I’m actually making progress on this front. It happened at the gravel pit office of our local aggregates dealer. Let me explain.

Our neighbour shares a one-km driveway with us, the bottom half of which we regravelled a year ago because decades of runoff, gaping potholes and exposed larger rocks demanded it. We split the cost and I gave my wife our share of the new gravel topping as her Christmas gift. She loved it and retold the gravel gift story at countless dinners. This winter’s aggressive rains and exaggerated frost-heave-thaw-settlement cycle have now done in the top half. It needs regravelling.

After discussing the project with our neighbour, I paid a visit to our road repair contractor. The proprietor was out but an older, welcoming employee was on duty. He walked over to me with a big smile as I got out of my truck and asked me how he could help? We discussed the project and he scoped out the options. Next he phoned the boss, who was out on a job, so I could set up a site visit. Then he asked me something quite telling.

“Are you catching any winter springs?”

He knew me from our summer moorage at the marina and assumed I was a local guy who fished year round. He then described his last fishing trip the previous evening, and told me about his tackle, tack and lack of luck getting a keeper. We kicked around a few ideas and I admitted that my boat was stored for the winter, so I hadn’t been out.

Even though I still live part time in Vancouver, I’m finally earning the right to be considered a local. It means more to me than you know.

Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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