After living away from Amherst for over 15 years, I moved back in 2015 with my wife, daughter and two dogs. I enjoyed living in Amherst again, but I felt that something was missing. I couldn’t identify what it was, and, even worse, I couldn’t identify the questions to ask to figure out what was missing.This uneasiness sat with me for years, until one day after playing hockey, I asked someone, “What happened to my business generation?”
I realized I had my starting question.
What was it like?
When I was growing up Amherst was full of local and independent businesses. These businesses add so much to a community: they keep profits locally, shop locally, live in the community, support local charities, are involved in the community, create jobs in the community, and the success of their business depends on the health of the community.
Last week I asked a friend, “if you had 15 minutes, how many Amherst business leaders or owners could you name from when we were growing?” He guessed 25-30. I guessed higher with 40 names.
Here goes my attempt:
Gordon C, Mary Lynn C((My Parents!)), Brian C, Doug S, Jeff B, Geoff D, Fred A, Walter R, Blake D, Tim M, Bill C, Bill C, Dan C, Bart B, Sean C, Gerry M, Linda M, Danny M, Frank P, Sue P, Harris P, Morris H, Bob J, James A, Gary S, Bob B, Maynard C, David C, Sue M, Vicki D, Andy K, Joe L, Keith H, Roddy W, Paul M, Jim H, Donald F, Mike A, Bernie B, Rod M, Karen C, Donnie C, Cathy L, Rod G, Kathy M, Rob M, Danny B, Jim G, Larry G, Earl G, Mac D, Steve G, Dick V, Willie M, Rod H, Jonathan E, Vaughn M, Theo M, Robert M, Deanne F, John L, David S, John C, Bill D, Ron F, Harold F, Kellie C, Doug C, Steve M, Cathy M, Alan B, Lester P.
72 names. That’s what I got.((I’d be curious to hear how many business owners can people from other communities remember. Let me know if you try this out.))
This is not an extensive list, apologies to anyone I forgot. There are also many businesses I remember but can’t think of the owner’s name, like National Specialty, or I remember that Brad Hopper’s Dad owned Hoppers.
How about today?
I could not name 72 Amherst business leaders or owners today. Why not?
Most of the businesses were either closed and not replaced, sold to larger corporations, or passed on to the next generation.
- the two paving companies in Amherst were sold to Miller Group and Municipal Group of Companies, two large conglomerates;
- The license plate manufacturing company was sold to another larger manufacturing company;
- The car dealerships are mostly owned by auto groups;
- The newspaper was first bought by Transcontinental Media as they rolled up all the non-Irving owned Maritime newspapers;
- The radio station was purchased by Maritime Broadcasting Stations, as they purchased all the smaller radio stations.
What about Retail?
When I was growing up we had two full malls, one anchored by Zellers and Save Easy, the other anchored by K-Mart and Sobeys. In between the anchors, the malls were full of independent and some chain stores. Dayles was a department store operating i Downtown, and we had 3 gas stations in or close to downtown plus another grocery store.
Dayles is closed, one of the malls has been converted into a strip mall, and the other is basically empty. The local retail shops have been replaced by Wal-Mart, Superstore, Amazon and other large businesses.
Why did this happen then?
One of the key changes we made was replacing the Combines Investigation Act with the Competition Act in 1986. With this change in policy we put the focus of our competition policy on efficiency and consumer welfare. One of the outcomes of this focus is that any merger was allowed provided it could be shown to not raise prices. We stopped thinking about jobs, suppliers, economic power or protecting small towns and businesses from corporate bullies. We accepted the thinking from the out of the University of Chicago that efficiency should be the goal, and we can deal with all of these other issues through other policy approaches.
And now here we are.
My community has lost its soul in the pursuit of efficiency.
That’s not a trade-off I want to make anymore.