Some of you are aware of the fact that I work at Squeekers in Edmonton. It's an indoor playground with a cafe that is one of the best places I have ever worked. Kids and adults come in laughing and ready to have a great time. Parents network and socialise, read papers and complete assignments. I make a mean cup of coffee and fabulous scones. Kids leave tired and parents leave satisfied. Not many places of work offer you the opportunity to make a child's day and make parents happy at the same time. I frankly love my job.
Unfortunately, due to the economic downturn here in Cairns, Squeekers will be closing it's doors on December 24th and not re-opening....EVER!
Is it due to the cost to go there? Partly, yes. It costs too much for the average family to visit weekly, which would be required to keep it viable. Can the prices be lower? Well, no. They are already lower than they should be and it's still a struggle to get people returning regularly.
It's simply a case of average families being broke. There is no spare money floating around households for frivolities such as this. They are carefully squirreling away the few dollars they may have so that they can afford to give their children a good Christmas, or budgeting well in advance for the school year to pay for the books, uniforms and fees that will be due in January. Even public school is no longer free, I am not sure that it ever really was, and the cost of uniforms alone is quite high. Parents no longer take the kids out for dinner to celebrate birthdays, or just to get out of the house. It costs too much.
Nobody is using the infrequent day off when a grandparent, friend or day care have the children, to socialise with other parents and have coffee and lunch somewhere nice. Instead, they are spending that time wondering how they can possibly get a fraction of what is on the Christmas list under the tree to avoid disappointment.
This is not a problem facing parents only though. It's a problem facing all of the local area. My neighbour owns a local restaurant. Because of the nature of his job, he finds out everything he can about any potential competition in the city as the dollars aren't there and they are all fighting for every customer. Last week alone, three cafe's and two restaurants announced they will be closing before Christmas.
In times when the population is cash poor, the first to suffer will be those businesses seen as luxury options. The most prominent of those are food outlets. How anyone can pretend that we are doing okay, when businesses are going broke in large numbers and the tourist ventures are discounting to the bottom line, and still struggling, has got their head in the sand.
I don't care how well our dollar is doing, couldn't care less if the stock-market is flying along. I care about the small business owner who can't afford Christmas. The parent who can't afford to buy their kids new shoes. The elderly couple who can't afford to take a trip to visit family for the holidays. These are the people who are doing it tough. These are the ones we should be focussing our spending on. These are the ones we should all care about.
There is very little I, or most of you, can do about the situation as it stands. In real terms, I have little extra myself as do you. However, I still need to buy the Christmas goodies, buy the pressies for under the tree and send out cards to family far away. To do that, I am insisting on buying only locally, from local businesses, with local owners. The presents for the kids have come from Juniors at Edmonton and Toyworld in Earlville. The chicken and platters have been ordered from Piccone's Edmonton and the decorations have come from the Florist and Gift store in the old section of Piccone's village. I have purchased presents for the adults from markets, from the gift store mentioned and from friends who are talented. A few came from Oxfam and I also purchased two loans from Kiva but I have stuck pretty closely to my goal.
Will I save these companies....NO! But you can. If everyone bought just half of all of their groceries, toys, gadgets, flowers, decorations etc.. from local businesses, we might just make enough of a difference that will see them still around in the new year. My goal is to try, and to get you all to as well.
The best part about shopping this way, is not just the benefit to the store owner, but the fantastic finds you come across that will help make someone special smile on Christmas Day. There is no better feeling than that.