The Steveston Merchants Association (SMA) was formed in 2010 by a group of business owners whose goal was to promote local businesses and drive more customers to their services, shops and restaurants through seasonal events, small scale advertising, a website and social media. With an elective paid membership the SMA does not encompass the entire business district, resulting in a smaller funding pool although events and promotions benefit the entire village.
An elected volunteer board is responsible for organizing popular events such as Christmas in Steveston Village, Girls’ Night Out, the Scarecrow Crawl and Trick or Treat in Steveston Village and has been a voice for many important area concerns.
While the work the SMA accomplishes is outstanding, the merchants’ association model is antiquated.
BIA stands for Business Improvement Areas and what this model offers is far reaching for both merchants and the entire community. Examples of what can be achieved for Steveston include a year round focus for promotional programs and activities, collective advertising and special events designed to drive more visitors to the area. Issues such as pedestrian scale lighting and parking improvements are also a focus of many BIAs.
Steveston’s business community is losing ground as business districts in virtually every surrounding region of Metro Vancouver and throughout B.C. have embraced BIAs. In comparison, Steveston is at a disadvantage without a BIA.
Business districts can dream big with input from a full membership’s participation at the board and committee level.
A simple way to explain a BIA is to imagine a shopping mall management system. All malls have systems in place to drive customers to the mall to benefit business tenants. Steveston without a BIA is like an outdoor mall with no big picture promotional direction. It just isn’t competitive nor does it come close to realized improved potential.
BIAs are able to plan further into the future to successfully promote areas. A BIA is approved by a vote and all businesses within a BIA’s boundaries automatically become members, creating a larger collective voice working for the betterment of businesses and the community.
A BIA is uniquely created for an area, no two are identical, and therefore Steveston could capitalize on its distinct locale where farmland meets the ocean and a historic fishing village.
Jim van der Tas, owner of the Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant (and president of the SMA) believes the sky’s the limit. He envisions everything from an Oktoberfest celebration spread over a number of days to celebrating a new Steveston heritage festival and transforming the entire village into a Christmas wonderland for the month of December to draw people to town.
Getting a BIA off the ground takes a lot of work and commitment from volunteers who believe that focusing on a bigger picture can produce some very effective results.
A new committee called the Steveston Business Development Association (SBDA) has formed under the SMA’s umbrella to partner cooperatively with other local non-profits that see the value a BIA brings to an entire community.
A municipality can’t force a BIA into a business community and generally shouldn’t stop a BIA start up group from asking them to initiate the voting procedure if the group has done positive outreach. After well over a decade of discussion Steveston merchants, land owners and key stakeholders have not gone before City council to ask for the BIA voting procedure but expect to this calendar year.
“Looking at this unique location and the sensitivity businesses have in trying to protect the history, integrity and feel of the community; there are a lot of political and business challenges that are hard for each business to face alone,” Tong says.
He adds, “Promoting the village, rather than one single business, attracts more people and creates an atmosphere within the village that can only benefit Steveston. I think there are certainly frustrations amongst some business owners who have seen what other BIAs have done and strongly believe one is needed to start promoting the village. The sooner we get this done the better.
”Carol Janeczko, owner of Little Mexico Cantina, believes, “The opportunity to revitalize Steveston through the formation of a BIA is an exciting prospect. Looking at other similar business districts such as Fort Langley and Cloverdale and seeing what they have accomplished for their communities through elaborate events, marketing and beautification projects is inspiring. It would be amazing to see Steveston advance to that level.”
Jens Hertha, owner of D’Original Sausage Haus, agrees. “I am excited about the possibility of having a BIA in Steveston. It would make Steveston stronger. For a business like mine the cost would be less than $200 per year. I strongly believe that a BIA is an investment and everybody benefits from a strong, vibrant business district.”Hertha believes, “This BIA initiative is a significant opportunity and every business and commercial property should plan to learn about it firsthand. This is too important an opportunity to be making a decision about a BIA based on nonfactual information or hearsay from third parties. Make an appointment with the organizers to talk about it.”
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