Going grocery shopping in Gold River involves a 90 km drive over the mountains these days.
Because the village’s only grocery store closed its doors Nov. 12, Gold Riverites now have to drive to Campbell River to buy food and other necessary items.
“The reason it closed goes back to RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) calling in our credit,” said Brad Unger, owner of the Gold River Super-Valu, who happens to also be the mayor of Gold River. “They no longer wanted to do business with us.”
Unger didn’t feel the bank’s move was necessary. The store was making its payments while providing the only source of local groceries in town.
“It’s not that we bounced a payment or bounced a cheque, it’s just that they felt we weren’t good enough customers any more,” Unger said.
With “some guy in Nanaimo” deciding to call in the store’s credit, Unger was left with no other option than to close the store. That has left the community of 1,200 residents and the neighbouring Tsaxana Reserve of about 350 without a grocery store.
“It’s a vital part of a small community,” Unger said.
The store has been struggling for some time but was surviving, much like the Village of Gold River itself, which lost a major employer a few years ago when the pulp mill closed. Since then the community has established itself as a picturesque, outdoors-oriented community with bargain real estate. In fact, Unger, says, the population has been growing in recent years with some new families and retirees moving in. The housing market has been the best it has been in a number of years.
Gold River’s situation is not unique, Unger said. Other small communities around B.C. like Port McNeill on the Island and Fraser Lake and Houston in north-central B.C. have been left without grocery stores. With the small market that’s available to support them, small, independent operations can’t compete with the big box stores in larger communities, Unger said.
Despite that, he has been putting out feelers to see if the village can entice another grocery business to the community. There is a deli in town that can take up some of the slack by offering more items but Unger feels what’s needed is an operator with a few grocery stores, rather than a single, independent owner.
In the meantime, grocery shopping in Gold River involves the drive to Campbell River through Strathcona Park.
That’s for people who can drive. Unger says. There are people in the community who don’t have vehicles or can’t drive and are stuck.
But Unger is hopeful a solution can be found. It’s in the community’s nature to survive.
“There’s a good mix of community here, there’s good spirit,” he said. “As Gold River says, you know, when we’re down, we band together and we keep on working and move on.”