This is the Life: Entrepreneurs bringing big — and good — changes to downtown Creston

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I took a morning walk on a recent Saturday, organizing my route so as to include a wander through the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market. I ordered breakfast and coffee from the Fork food truck and, while I was waiting, a friend happened by to join me. Not many better things to do on a beautiful day — sit and chat, enjoy a breakfast sammy and fresh-brewed coffee. It did get better though.

Did I know that a mutual friend was back in town, my friend (I’ll call him Joe, because that’s his name) asked. I didn’t and we decided to walk down to visit and deliver a treat Joe had bought. On the short trip I brought up the changes that the town is undergoing — a new and improved Pine Street intersection at Northwest Boulevard, the sale of the old Kootenay Hotel, new shops opening, more development plans on the west side of town, new houses at the top end of Devon Street.

Joe put on his most curmudgeonly face and said he is in the late Wil Hudson’s camp. As Wil liked to say, “No change is for the good.”

“I like change,” I said. For the last couple of months I have been routinely wandering over to check out the intersection construction, which will provide a perfect entrance into Creston from the west.

When town councillors and Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce representatives visited businesses last month, many reported that the most common comment was in how beautiful the downtown core is looking. I was part of the revitalization committee that worked to plan a greening program that included bump-outs at intersections to accommodate plantings. Trees were planted and the Cook Street parking lot was made more visually appealing.

Now, a new chamber of commerce initiative has led to the addition of planters and chalkboard signs along downtown sidewalks. I love them and the added visual interest they create. Yes, parking-challenged drivers routinely bump into the one in front of the Advance office, but it moves easily and no damage has resulted. No harm, no foul.

But the visuals are only part of the story. For the last year there has been more optimism downtown than I have felt in years. Lectric Avenue Electronics moved into a larger premises to accommodate Apple products, Doug and Darlene Vance opened a new furniture store, the addition of a shoe store has been welcomed, Black Bear Books attracted a new owner, smaller niche-market shops — where the future of local retail lies — have been added. The announcement of the purchase of Kootenay Hotel got huge attention on the Advance website and hope remains that the bunker development will happen.

A lovely spruce-up of a 15th Avenue building to accommodate small shops has improved the area and last week, right across the street, Bart and Alison Bjorkman opened the renovated former Dominion Auto Body building to display their Puffin Design creations and provide a workshop so customers can see what’s coming. Mayor Ron Toyota and I visited soon after its opening and we were suitably impressed. Afterward, we stopped in to check out the new toy department on the lower floor of Creston Card and Stationery. We were astonished by the wonderful selection and concluded there probably isn’t a better toy store in southeast B.C. The willingness by local entrepreneurs to invest in retail space and provide local consumers and visitors with added choices is undeniably a sign of optimism.

A story in the Globe and Mail several months ago named Creston as one of Canada’s most desirable retirement destinations didn’t lead the way to these changes, but it no doubt served to boost a growing feeling that our future is bright. As we continue to see the diversification and growth of our local food production sector, we find ourselves in a unique position. With the right combination of infrastructure investment and entrepreneurship, fruit and vegetable farming and making value-added products will help drive the Creston Valley economy.

Last week, Coun. Joe Snopek wrote in his column that we should take time to thank the people who hold public office. He’s right. But we should also make a similar effort for local entrepreneurs. They too deserve our thanks and support.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.

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