City Council Isn’t Listening to Local Businesses, But there’s Over 100,000 of Us Who Can Help

"As a result of the recent assessments and City of St. John's budget, our taxes will increase by 71 %. That is not a typo. What in the world could possibly justify that?”

The situation is grim, disheartening, and it’s baffling too: those of us who truly take pride in living in St. John’s and bask in its booming food and retail culture, have to watch our elected officials ignore the pleas of the places that make this city feel like home.

These economic drivers, these employers of many, these cultural icons, simply can’t afford to be saddled with the burden of making up for hard times. And shouldn’t have to: a smart city supports local businesses.

The councillors making the decision to drastically hike property taxes are proving to be indifferent, and that’s infuriating – they are supposed to represent us, and that explicitly means Listen To Us! And yet, Melanie Caines, owner of a very popular local business, Nova Yoga, can demonstrate that, other than councillor Lane, no one’s listening.

She says our deputy mayor basically auto-responded to say council can’t help her, and worse still, she says finance chair Jonathan Galgay’s response was a generic stock letter about the arts cuts, not tax hikes to local businesses, which she was inquiring about. So, did he even read her letter? It doesn’t matter if he did, they’re not budging.

Caines has already had to cut back on staffing hours, and her hike will only amount to a few thousand extra a year – believe it or not, others will have to cough up much more than that. And if that sounds doable to you – if you’re among those saying “well, if a businesses is living by breaking even, they’re not doing well” – than you clearly haven’t run a small business downtown, with its extreme rental costs, and for a capital city, small population of potential customers.

Context, people: we have tons of popular places that are just getting by. They’re being hailed as the best food and drink and retail spots in the country. That doesn’t mean they can afford to be gauged by council for money.

“As a result of the recent assessments and City of St. John’s budget, our taxes will increase by 71 %. That is not a typo. What in the world could possibly justify that?”

We’re talking serious increases here: Shane Kelly owns the building Rocket Bakery & Deli operates out of. “As a result of the recent assessments and City of St. John’s budget, our taxes will increase by 71 %. That is not a typo. What in the world could possibly justify that?”

Bob Hallett, Great Big Sea member turned bar and restaurant owner, has been at the forefront of discontent. “In 2012, when we bought Erin’s Pub, taxes were just over $5000 a year. By 2015 they had climbed to $8580.That was a steep increase, but bearable. This year they are going up to an incredible $17,640.” Blue on Water, voted as Karl Well’s Second Best Restaurant in Town, will have to find another $6000 this year, on top of the crazy costs of groceries right now.

Posts like Hallett’s are spreading like wildfire online, but as Hallett points out, our councillors are not social media savvy and might be unaware of the degree of discontent.

“Council is largely made up of old retired guys, who are not interested in social media … the thousands of comments I and many others have generated are nothing to them, and it has made it easy for them to ignore us. In fact, one Councillor told me, quite proudly, that he has only gotten five calls on this issue, so what’s the fuss?”

Anna Hellqvist Founder and co-owner of Tval says, “We have contributed to this city and province with employment, occupancy tax, and lovely smelling soaps. You’d think that we would get a little support … but no, not at all. Never have, and it seems, never will. You seem to disregard us completely.

“To me it feels like a Joey Smallwood complex … a big international business shows interest, and you get all starstruck and bend all kinds of rules. Well, believe you me: no one will plan their vacation to Newfoundland because there is a The Keg or Starbucks here. Please ask yourself what you can do to make downtown not only survive but THRIVE.”

SO WHAT CAN WE DO OTHER THAN EMAIL BLAST COUNCILLORS?

It’s a new year; turn over a new leaf. It’s the winter; don’t get lazy and lifeless. Let’s all shake up our lives with a new hobby, gym membership, cooking class, you name it. Let’s all get out and spend more locally.

If you don’t do yoga, consider the mad passion with which yoga practitioners speak of it: go join Nova Yoga or Moksha, or Pony Locale, or whatever: put some money in some local pockets, while finding yourself some well-deserved inner peace. Get your body unbent-out-of-shape. Stretch the winter blues out of your joints. //

Support St. John’s food havens and get a crack at 15 gift cards for local restaurants. You know you love tacos. You know you deserve a few nights out this month, be it at a barseat alone, or with a table of twelve. //

Have you BEEN to TVAL. Anna ain’t joking about her “lovely soaps”: her products put Sobeys-bought soaps to shame. Not just the fabulous fragrances (they’re actually gentle, perfect smells) but in the quality and texture of the products. You deserve to treat yourself to the simple joy of super bath products. They can enhance your life in some small way, and hey, it’s the simple things in this life, right? //

Back in December, thousands of you voted and crowned Johnny Ruth “The Best Retail Store in Town, Period.” Well, guess what? Johnny Ruth & Living Planet is holding a customer appreciation day Saturday, February 13th, 2016.

The event is from 1:00 – 4:00pm, what better time to go check the place out, for the 1st or 100th time. They’ve got something for everyone there on any given day of the week, but on the 13th, they’ll also have: local designer Charlotte Reid of Charlotte Street doing custom work (people can bring down their beloved old t-shirts and get them reworked!), Live music from Sandy Morris & Jamie Dart at 2:00pm, Canadian design giveaways, a chance to win $200 worth of Anne-Marie Chagnon Jewelry,
plus some treats and other goings on. //

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