‘Tipping Points’ happen all the time, but with concerted will they don’t have to


Author Malcolm Gladwell in a book title uses the term Tipping Point to describe a situation in which a negative force has been permitted to prevail for too long; with the tipping point being that tragic time of ‘no return’.

All empires expire and that which was magnificent often crumbles into dust via wars, decimation of populations or all too often neglect, benign or overt.

And while I am sorry to bring up the subject, it is something I see in my own community, most precisely in the downtown core of Courtenay. I’m not saying Courtenay has become a mini-Detroit, but nobody once thought the downtown of a vibrant ‘Motor City’ would become a squalid mess.

While I rarely use my blog for any sort of screed other than ironic or smartass views of the world, I have decided at this point to be a little more overt. While I am not especially indicting anyone here – and if there are those who should be indicted I’ll leave the reader to draw his/her own conclusions in that regard – but just pointing out the state of the situation as I, and many others see it.

Something is rotten in the state of Courtenay’s core.

While i don’t live in Courtenay per se, I have lived there and have resided in the Comox Valley for more decades than I care to even contemplate. Weird for a guy who saw himself as a city slicker from Vancouver and planned to stay for two years tops when he first arrived. But, life doesn’t always unfold in the ways we plan.

But, when I first came to the Valley, downtown Courtenay was a charming place to be, to wander in, to visit the shops which were plentiful then and diverse enough to offer inviting enticements.

Don’t get me wrong here. There are still stalwart and fine businesses determined to hold the line and I commend those who are carrying on despite the adversities they face from the ‘Big Boxes’ across town and the less than savory socio-economic element that has come to be too prevalent. I lived in this place for decades without ever being hit-up for spare change on the streets of Courtenay. Today, sadly, that has become a virtual norm. Not meaning to disparage those in want, but many of them, let’s be frank, are in ‘want’ due to their own choices. And I don’t appreciate their choices encroaching on mine. Just saying.

And in that context I know of people who have stopped wandering around those same streets due to the fact the experience has become less than agreeable.

bickle theateAnd, if we find those elements alongside the empty one-time businesses, and a weed-infested street corner that used to house a vibrant cinema, since burned, and evident that there seems to be little will by those who could do something about it to, well, do something about it. I weep for the remaining businesses in the area.

A few years ago business took me to the interior town of Kamloops, a place I hadn’t been to for years. On a Saturday morning my wife and I took a stroll down to old Kamloops, the original business district. It was rife with empty shops and shells of buildings, whereas uphill, where we were staying, all was vital and vibrant with spiffy new buildings and big box emporia along with the ubiquitous Stabucks and other eateries.

Very sad.

And by now somewhat familiar.

I’d like the ‘old’ Courtenay back. Or has it reached that Tipping Point of no return?


19 responses to “‘Tipping Points’ happen all the time, but with concerted will they don’t have to

  1. The theatre site is owned by a First Nations group, I think. $750,000-ish? For a site in need of remedial work and then construction. Some people say that rent downtown is high, but it’s less than the shopping malls; it’s all perception and misinformation. On the other hand… One year, someone had tossed a great load of flower seeds over the fence surrounding the old theatre site, and it was a blooming nice summer!

    • That is a very misleading sign that is on the lot. It’s just the name of a land-management company who are the contacts if you are interested in purchasing the property – not First Nations at all. Unfortunately these off-shore owners care nothing at all about our community and they don’t even see fit to put the lot down to a reasonable selling price. They are asking over 1 Million, and won’t even talk to you if you don’t talk at least that.

  2. I was told the theatre site was owned by a Hong Kong consortium. Whoever owns it and regardless of cost it should be made right, even if turned into a nice park, that’d work. And yes, the flower seeds helped. But the point is the place cannot be left squalid because that is how the whole tipping point thing works.

  3. I understand. Minneapolis has its share of panhandlers, although I must admit the empty buildings are not present. Still, no one goes where they feel uncomfortable…


  4. That’s the sad part. It drives people away from the community core and leads to progressive disuse of businesses.

  5. It always disturbs me to see once vibrant areas die. I’m guessing the ebb and flow of where “things are going on” has probably been happeneing forever, WE just notice it because we are fortunate to have lived a long life.
    When I read about archeological finds, I always wonder, “What happened, how did this city go away?” I think I get it. Stuff just moves around and it’s been doing that for centuries.

    • I know it’s all about change and a new dynamic and your points are very well taken. But, it’s also about money-grubbing town councils seeing Nirvana in developer bucks in new areas.

  6. I think Geewits is right to an exent. Cities are living entities, the evolve and change and that’s normal, whether we like it or not. They evolve and change because the people in them change from one generation to the next and their preoccupations/wants/needs are different from the previous generation. We might not like it, but there you go. Montreal has changed enormously in the 30 some years I’ve lived here. Not always for the better – at least in my opinion. But I’m on the way out, so what do I know. I guess it fits the next generation.

    • She is indeed right. The changes in Vancouver since I grew up and moved away are staggering and, because I remember when, they are also disagreeable but that’s because I’m an old fart, I guess.

  7. Bethany Van Hecke

    While I certainly agree with most of your comments, there is one thing you didn’t mention…

    Many of the experiences I have downtown shopping leave a bad taste in my mouth. VERY poor customer service seems to be the norm!

    While I’m tempted to reveal specific stories for entertainment value – that would serve little purpose as the problem is nearly across the board. Plus I don’t care to receive hate mail…

    Business owners – wake up! If you ignore customers, if you’re rude to them, if you make inappropriate comments… They won’t come back!!

    As a young business owner in the Comox Valley this is a lesson I have had to learn fast – and sometimes the hard way.

    Why aren’t these downtown business owners seeing this is a lesson they have to learn too!?!

    “Stick in the mud” perhaps?

    • First off, thanks for visiting, Bethany, and please do so again. But of equal importance are your insights and how this is a two-way street. Yes, service is often lacking with established downtown businesses and I have long decried that. If you want to attract customers you too have to give back.

  8. Bringing It Home

    Thanks for this article. I am a former downtown business owner and fought tooth and nail, bringing my arguments to loosen restrictions in the downtown core and tighten the box-store sprawl via imposing a community big business square footage cap~ something that has been done in similar communities in the US with excellent results. At the time I was a shopkeeper downtown, I wasn’t allowed to even put out a sandwich board for my business, or even a bundle of balloons to brighten the atmosphere. I attended the “Downtown Revitalization” meeting between members of the Downtown Business Association and the City of Courtenay. Many good ideas were brought to the table. All were promised to be seriously considered. But in the end, it was just not a priority for the City and nothing whatsoever came of that effort or the good ideas represented by those with a vested interest in the downtown core.
    I then went to speak in front of the City, citing my concerns for the projected future of our downtown and the loss of our civic areas to private, money-churning box stores which directly export our dollars from our town.
    I also wrote letters to the Editor of the paper. All in all, my efforts received a small appreciative nod from those I presented to but in the long run, it’s not enough.
    I’ve just turned 30, and find the manner in which the City conducts its business to be ignorant of the needs of the people. Those currently in power will be occupying nursing homes when the younger generations will be sopping up the mess.
    But here’s the good news! We DO have a say in what happens in this valley. If we collectively all stopped shopping at Wal-Mart, then Wal-Mart would close. We create the demand. It’s as simple as that. Waiting around for the City to make these decision for us is not empowering. By working together we can create new demands around business. Ever heard of crowd-funding? Check it out. Let’s get educated and out of our armchairs and into the drivers seats. And yes, we are all drivers of this ship we call the Comox Valley….

  9. NOLA is reaching a tipping a point, only not everyone can see that it is negative, because it looks like improvements. Too convoluted to leave as a comment, but negative, nonetheless. *sigh*

    • We get exactly the same thing and attitudes here. And I confess to being guilty at times such as I am going off to Costco this morning to get a couple of items only Costco has.

  10. Our Downtown Business is now in it’s 30th year. We did have a few scary years, but with a few changes made we have experienced a tremendous amount of success these last 2 years. In fact we have actually just had a record year out of 30 years. A big part of our success can be attributed to the vibrancy and high levels of traffic we have in our beautiful Downtown.

    I am on the Downtown Board of Direction and we are working hard to keep panhandling at a minimum. I can’t believe that anyone would think that there is enough panhandlers in our little Downtown to be “Uncomfortable”??

    As far as the palace Theatre lot goes, it is unfortunate that the person who owns this property wants over $1 Million & will not negotiate on price. The city cannot justify spending the tax payer’s money on something that is worth half as much as the asking price. We have begun discussing fundraising options to buy it as a Downtown but $1 Million is a tall order. Just wanted you to know that we are aware of the ugliness of that lot, however without $1 Million our hands are tied. We are not even permitted to beautify it with planting, or art on the fences. And no developer in their right mind would pay that much for that property.

    Also as far as some of the empty spaces Downtown, Some are empty because they simply are old and in desperate need of major upgrades which financially would be too much of a burden for a business to take on. This is something the owners of the building really need to take on.

    Your article is a reflection of the rumblings I am hearing in my store on a daily basis. The media has not done us any favours by continuing to only report on the negatives such as closing stores (which are mostly retirements), empty buildings etc. This is just another negative article to add to this. How about talking about the new businesses who have recently opened? The young business owners who have recently invested into our Downtown? Celebrating the businesses who are still going strong after 15, 20 & 30 years? Yes we are not as dense with businesses as we were 10 years ago. But what shopping districts in this country are??

    Relatively speaking Downtown Courtenay is having a tremendous amount of success. We are vibrant, beautiful and still an amazing place to shop, dine and enjoy yourself. Let’s talk about this for a change?

  11. Thank you for your perspective, Jenny, and I love your store, by the way.

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