-by John Gillis
The Mabou Farmers’ Market is currently in the thick of another busy and successful season. This year marked getting a new manager and preparing for its 13th season in operation at the Mabou arena with opening day on Sunday, June 2nd, and hours running from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.
Approximately 60 vendors take part in the market each week. The produce selection has improved significantly over the years and produce is available earlier in the season due to the fact that some of the anchor vendors have greenhouses or are simply better gardeners than most of us, or both!
If you’re just going to sample the foods or to eat, you’re very much in luck as well because that too has improved in selection and options over the years. Who would have thought you’d be able to get Syrian/Canadian chocolate, spicy curries, samosas, sticky buns, gluten free baked products, farm-made flavoured sausages, beef jerky, top notch coffees, the finest of homemade German desserts and so much more in little ole Mabou on a Sunday morning?
Well, Suzanne Craig of Mabou Mines and a few other pioneers of the Market knew this was possible from the very beginning – whether they knew at the time the rate at which the market would grow and succeed or not, I can’t say – but it did and we’re pleased as punch that it did.
Not only is the Mabou Farmers’ Market such a vibrant and exciting place to spend your morning and early afternoon – supporting your local vendors, sampling the wares, tasting the delicious food offerings, and enjoying a specialty coffee – it’s also a great place to meet people, catch up with old friends, and to enjoy a diverse selection of music that is also offered weekly.
Now, let’s look at the numbers. According to market promoter and board member Laurel Browne, the financial impact of the market for its vendors in 2017 was $304,452 in gross sales with an estimated community impact of two dollars more for every dollar spent at the market - or about $600,000 annually. Now that’s probably growing. The market also helps keep the arena operating with a donation each year. To imagine what these spinoffs mean to a small community like Mabou you only have to try to find a parking space on Sunday mornings or get caught up in the traffic jam (yes, a traffic jam in Mabou!) if you get caught between the market rush and the Catholic church-goers spilling out onto the Harbour Road before noon.
Which brings me to my point.
Mabou is a picturesque little community and those of us who are from there are extremely attached and proud of our homes and our community. However, it’s no secret that it’s difficult to find a place to buy in Mabou, difficult to find a plot of land to start a business on, difficult to find a place to rent year ’round and difficult to drive through the village and witness all the empty houses (some in great shape and some that are deteriorating) that stand vacant in the village. It’s also clear that our community is aging.
A few years ago, I heard of a number of successful businesses and business ideas from people who wanted to locate in Mabou or Mabou area, but it was virtually impossible for them to do so.
My idea is (and there’s nothing stopping another community that figures they can pull it off to do so) is that a well-designed, well-landscaped, and built commercial or industrial park in or near the community would be an excellent way to attract business and employment opportunities to the community. Perhaps our municipal, provincial, and federal governments and development association could get behind such a plan.
Think of it. If you or I were to have a great business idea and needed space we’d have to purchase a lot, make sure we met zoning and other regulations, get surveyed, perhaps migrate land, get sewer and water and paving and develop the lot and design a plan and build the building to house the building. All of this could conceivably run us a cost of several hundred to a half million dollars or more before the business even opens its doors. Well, we’d better have a great business idea if we’re going to make that work!
Now, imagine if there were small units in a building where we could rent a space, like a tastefully designed mini-mall or business hub concept with parking, utilities, and some common areas and infrastructure, where (like the market with tables), we could rent a commercial space for a reasonable amount each month, where we could try out a business idea. If it would work, we would continue to be tenants and perhaps expand. If it didn’t work, instead of being, say a half million dollars in debt, we’d only be out a few months rent and could perhaps take the lessons we learned and apply them to another business idea or simply move on and leave the space for someone else to take a stab at it.
Some of you will say that they tried that in Inverness and it didn’t work out so well. Yes and no. There was a small industrial mall there for a number of years (Cabot Links is now on that site) but let’s face it, that mini-mall was not attractive and it was not functional. I spoke to one tenant there who moved out of there because of being tired of breathing the fumes and pollution from the recycling depot that was housed in the building and which operated heavy machinery such as forklifts inside the building. Besides, the recycling depot was a bad fit for the other businesses because the plastic bags were constantly blowing out around the year polluting the space and creating a mess for the other tenants and surrounding businesses to deal with.
So, let’s hope Mabou will double up on the opportunity and model created by its successful Farmers’ Market and create a beautiful mid-sized commercial building with rental units for businesses with an option to expand further if successful, so that people with business ideas can locate here and thrive and perhaps re-populate our aging communities with some younger or middle-aged people who want to live here. Maybe even some of the market vendors would lease or rent a space year ’round in addition to being part of the market.
I’d love to see it happen in Mabou. However, there are other communities here in Cape Breton where it could work as well.
So, go ahead, steal this idea, please and let’s hope it does takes shape in Mabou!