There was a time when downtown Courtenay was the centre of the Comox Valley.
Back in 1985 (and you historians, correct me if I’m not entirely correct), downtown was pretty much the same size it is now, but it included the Eaton’s department store, North Island College, Super Valu, the town firehall, Palace Theatre, post office, Law Pharmacy, the Goodwill, Kelly Douglas Distributors and a plethora of various stores, restaurants and shops that are no longer with us.
There are a number of stores and shops that are still running: Searles Shoes, the bowling alley, Rattan Plus, Graham Jewellers, Francis Jewellers, Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, CIBC, Central Builders, Tulio’s … and I’m sure there’s more that I haven’t thought of. (Sorry!)
There are people that I still meet on the street to this day that I met on the streets those 29 years ago. The word that comes to mind when I think of downtown is community.
There has been a lot of emphasis put on that word as of late. With the development of towns, suburbs and ‘gated’ areas, we seem to be losing the sense of community.
I attended a meeting downtown a while ago (I’ll call it a meeting, when it was more of a social gathering, a meeting of like minds, an inspirational outing, if you will) where the guest speaker spoke about the origin of towns, or cities.
How downtowns started at the crossroads of trails. When the wagoneers of yesteryear were heading out west, they would stop at the crossroads to trade, get news, and socialize. Still to this day, if you’re walking downtown to shop or explore, quite often it could take longer than you might expect because of who you run into.
Over the Christmas holidays, I had the pleasure of running into the likes of Mr. Burns, Ms. King, Ms. Hobson, Ms. Masters and Mr. Leung. Those of you who have been around awhile would certainly recognize those names.
Take a look around. Business is growing, and it’s great. Having bigger stores, ‘box’ stores, in new areas is all part of growth.
They have their place and they provide different products and experiences. They provide jobs, huge selections and choices. Are they part of the community? I would say they are. Do they care about the community, I think mostly they do. Do they support small, local businesses, well that’s up for debate. In all these complexes you have your main ‘anchor’ store, usually with some affiliate. Included in the complex are usually quite a few smaller, satellite stores. This is true all over North America, but it’s fairly new here on Vancouver Island.
Stores come and go. They move locations, owners retire, stores amalgamate with other stores and sometimes unexpectedly. Take a look around, you’ll see empty shops, some even new. What we are experiencing here downtown is nothing unusual.
So when phrases are maliciously, or gossipingly spread around that “Downtown is dying,” or “It used to to be so much better,” you have to shake your head.
Downtown is where it’s at! It’s the crossroads. From downtown, the buses all meet and travel to Comox, Cumberland, Campbell River, or south. The Puntledge River flows right through it, where you can swim, picnic or just enjoy.
That’s what I’m talking about. Where can you shop, socialize, eat, swim and walk all in the same place.
I’m not saying that everyone ‘has’ to shop downtown and you’re a traitor if you don’t. Understand the importance of it, where it came from, and if you haven’t experienced it, well, now’s the time. Summer is coming on and it really is special.
Editor’s note: Mark Duncan is the co-owner of the Union Street Grill and Grotto in downtown Courtenay.