Edi­tor’s Note:

Small busi­ness own­ers re-in­vent them­selves to meet new chal­lenges

The Amherst News - - FRONT PAGE - By James Ris­don SaltWire Net­work

Sec­ond life. It can rep­re­sent a chance to do over. To re­set and re­fo­cus your life. To shake off the past and give your­self an op­por­tu­nity to change and grow. In our se­ries, Sec­ond Life, we took a look at how those in the small busi­ness world, out of ne­ces­sity or de­sire, reach be­yond their com­fort zones to re-cre­ate them­selves and their world. These sto­ries cel­e­brate those who saw po­ten­tial in be­ing some­thing else or cre­at­ing some­thing that wasn’t and were brave enough to take the plunge into the deep, dark waters of entrepreneurship.

The oh-so-wel­com­ing smells of freshly made, rasp­berry-ja­mand-co­conut mac­a­roon tarts and lemon meringue pies fill the air.

Turkey, veg­etable and mac­a­roni soup is sim­mer­ing.

Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town is pour­ing out from a lo­cal clas­sic rock sta­tion through the speak­ers.

Say hello to the Sweet Side of the Moon Bak­ery and Café.

On Glace Bay’s McKeen Street, baker Terry MacLeod has once again taken the plunge into entrepreneurship, pro­vided nine peo­ple with jobs and trans­formed an empty build­ing near the lo­cal Tim Hor­tons into a diner.

It has cost him about $300,000. “It’s a sig­nif­i­cant amount of money for me,” said MacLeod in an in­ter­view. “The idea was to in­vest in a small busi­ness and, as I near my re­tire­ment, it will pro­vide a re­tire­ment in­come. That’s the hope any­ways.”

It’s a dream shared by tens of thou­sands of At­lantic Cana­di­ans.

Ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Canada, Nova Sco­tia had the great­est num­ber of busi­nesses big enough to hire em­ploy­ees in At­lantic Canada at 29,922 by the end of 2015, the most re­cent for which fig­ures are avail­able. Prince Ed­ward Is­land had the least at 5,935. New Brunswick had 25,509 of these em­ployer busi­nesses and New­found­land and Labrador 17,526.

That’s 78,892 busi­nesses that pro­vide jobs in the re­gion.

The lion’s share of these, al­most 98 per cent, are small. Across Canada, 54.1 per cent of all em­ploy­ers op­er­ate busi­nesses with less than five em­ploy­ees.

Think mom-and-pop shops and ser­vice con­trac­tors.

Small, yes. But these com­pa­nies pack a big punch when it comes to job cre­ation with 87.7 per cent of net job growth in the decade end­ing in 2015 com­ing from them.

In some cases, the im­pact of just one en­trepreneur can be stag­ger­ing for a com­mu­nity.

“Some­times, it just takes that one per­son to set the spark,” says Dr. Mathew No­vak, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Saint Mary’s Univer­sity and an ex­pert on the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of down­town cores.

In St. John’s, chef and se­rial en­trepreneur Todd Per­rin is cre­at­ing ex­actly that kind of buzz.

Af­ter buy­ing the his­toric Mallard fam­ily home in Quidi Vidi Vil­lage in 2011 with his wife, Kim Doyle, and som­me­lier Stephen Lee, Per­rin trans­formed it into a restau­rant that has since acted as a mag­net for food­ies and her­itage buffs alike.

“It’s re­ceived in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion,” said City of St. John’s Coun­cil­lor-at-large Dave Lane in an in­ter­view. “It’s one of the go-to restau­rants, not only for St. John’s but also in Canada.”

Then, the en­trepreneur cre­ated The Inn by Mallard Cot­tage, an eight-room inn in two build­ings that look like his­toric New­foundn land homes, across the street.

Along with the Quidi Vidi Brew­ing Com­pany founded by David Rees and David Fong in the mid90s, these lat­est de­vel­op­ments are now draw­ing in so many tourists and lo­cals to the Quidi Vidi Vil­lage area as to make park­ing and traf­fic flow an is­sue with res­i­dents.

“Todd has set a spark,” said Coun. Lane.

These type of area de­vel­op­ments aren’t only hap­pen­ing in New­found­land.

In Yar­mouth, N.S., Mandy Ren­nehan, the daugh­ter of a lob­ster fish­er­man who of­ten strug­gled to put food on the ta­ble for his fam­ily of six, learned at an early age there was hope.

At 18, she left home with noth­ing but a suit­case and a smile. Or so claims the web­site of the com­pany she founded, Freshco, a main­te­nance, projects and restau­ra­tion com­pany that helps re­tail busi­nesses re­vamp their digs.

To­day, Ren­nehan, who is af­fec­tion­ately nick­named “Bear”, is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Oakville, Ont.-based com­pany.

That 22-year-old com­pany has 58 full-time em­ploy­ees and a net­work of 300 con­tract em­ploy­ees across Canada and the United States. While the pri­vately held com­pany does not di­vulge its ex­act rev­enues, a Freshco spokesper­son did say the com­pany does be­tween $20 mil­lion to $40 mil­lion in sales an­nu­ally.

And Ren­nehan is still deeply com­mit­ted to her home­town.

Three years ago, she bought sev­eral build­ings in down­town Yar­mouth, in­clud­ing the old jail­house, a wind­mill, a row of store­fronts and sev­eral res­i­den­tial build­ings.

The wind­mill be­came her Yar­mouth home. The row of store­fronts on Main Street was spruced up and Ren­nehan has since founded an­other com­pany, Ren­nDuPrat, there and em­ploys eight full-time work­ers.

Her to­tal in­vest­ment in re­vi­tal­iz­ing Yar­mouth in the last few years alone is es­ti­mated to be about $4 mil­lion and the buzz in the com­mu­nity is that a ma­jor project is go­ing to be an­nounced in the next few months for the for­mer jail­house she now owns.

In small towns through­out At­lantic Canada and else­where in the coun­try, it’s home­spun entrepreneurship like this, fu­eled by busi­ness peo­ple fill­ing lo­cal needs, that is do­ing the heavy lift­ing when it comes to re­vi­tal­iz­ing down­towns.

“There’s no sil­ver bul­let so­lu­tion (to eco­nomic re­vi­tal­iza­tion),” said No­vak. “A lot of it has to be rooted in the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

Ma­hone Bay in Lunen­burg County has lifted it­self up over the years and built a thriv­ing tourism sec­tor in its down­town with mar­itime-themed bars and restau­rants with quaint and whim­si­cal names.

Aca­dia Univer­sity in Wolfville and St. Fran­cis Xavier Univer­sity in Antigo­nish have pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for busi­nesses there to cater to the stu­dent mar­ket.

“Guys­bor­ough, for­merly a quiet town, is in­creas­ingly mak­ing a name for it­self by cre­at­ing a brew­ery (the Au­then­tic Sea­coast Dis­tillery & Brew­ery) and cof­fee roast­ery (Full Steam Cof­fee Co.) and that cre­ates jobs,” said No­vak.

Ac­cord­ing to the down­town re­vi­tal­iza­tion ex­pert, these com­mu­ni­ties are do­ing it right.

“It’s bet­ter if you don’t bring big com­pa­nies in but in­stead foster it from within,” he said.

The idea for solid eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment is to build on a com­mu­nity’s lo­cal strengths and cre­ate an ex­pe­ri­ence with which cus­tomers can iden­tify. At Full Steam Cof­fee, owner Glynn Wil­liams has tied that roast­ery’s iden­tity to the re­gion’s sea­far­ing past.

Laser-like at­ten­tion to the bot­tom line is, of course, nec­es­sary for a busi­ness to sur­vive. But No­vak says many en­trepreneurs also feel a strong need to bet­ter their com­mu­ni­ties.

“Profit is a mo­ti­va­tor. They’re busi­ness peo­ple. They want to make money. But an­other mo­ti­va­tion is their roots and want­ing to give back to the com­mu­nity,” he said. “They might buy an old build­ing and re­store it.”

In Glace Bay, it was the call of his home­town in the Mar­itimes that led MacLeod to plunk all that money into his busi­ness.

The 58-year-old, who pre­vi­ously owned and op­er­ated an­other bak­ery in Glace Bay, sold it 14 years ago, went back to school, and be­came an oc­cu­pa­tional health and safety of­fi­cer.

But by the time he grad­u­ated, the North Amer­i­can econ­omy was in the throes of the sub-prime mort­gage cri­sis. Com­pa­nies were lay­ing off, not hir­ing.

“When I was look­ing at the op­por­tu­ni­ties, they had dried up,” he said.

He turned to Fort McMur­ray to pay the bills, un­der­tak­ing the Mar­itimers’ all-too-fa­mil­iar back-and­forth mi­gra­tion to Al­berta for work. It took its toll. “Trav­el­ling from one end of the coun­try, go­ing through air­ports and then tak­ing a few days to get back into things, you wind up with maybe a week at home be­fore you have to go back,” said MacLeod.

He de­cided there had to be a bet­ter way.

In Glace Bay, there was an old, empty build­ing. It had been built as a Nova Sco­tia Liquor Cor­po­ra­tion out­let, then trans­mo­gri­fied into a jail­house, then con­verted into bar dubbed The Cell Block, and fi­nally a restau­rant called El­liotts.

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