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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Barking up the local tree

When is a Halifax pet supply business no longer "local"?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 16, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Time is running out on The Coast's Buy Local Pledge, our annual drive to have you commit to shifting $100 of your holiday shopping to local businesses. The pledge ends this Friday, December 17, so this is your last chance, folks. Go to thecoast.ca and sign up now.

Don't forget that if you pledge, you could win one of four $500 gift certificates redeemable at participating Halifax independent businesses. 

The Coast has always supported local independent businesses---it is one, after all--- and along with the pledge we publish Buy Local Halifax, a guide to local businesses out now and available many of the same places as the paper. We've seen the local shopping movement gaining exciting momentum, hot on the heels of the locavore, but even we sometimes have trouble figuring out how to define "local business." Especially when it comes to companies that gain lots of momentum on their own.

Take Sobeys, for example. The grocery giant is a local success story: Born and raised in Nova Scotia, it remains headquartered here even as it expands and diversifies across Canada. But the company has evolved to the point where it's publicly traded (EMP on Toronto's stock exchange), so despite its Atlantic Canadian roots, today its owners are investors around the world, making it not exactly locally owned or independent. 

We recently heard about a similar situation from the world of pet supply stores. Dylan Jackman, owner of NL Jungle Pets---recently relocated from downtown Dartmouth to 50 Tacoma Drive---contacted us to let us know that one of the businesses in our guide is, in fact, owned out of the province. Pets Unlimited boasts on its website as being an "Atlantic Canadian phenomenon" and operates a headquarters on Brownlow Avenue. It is described as a "sister company" to a national chain west of the Maritimes, but we missed the key detail. Pets Unlimited district manager Jim Harrison confirms Jackman's assertions: Pets Unlimited, founded here in Atlantic Canada in 1988, was acquired by Ontario-based PJ's Pets in 2005. 

But what about the next Pets Unlimited or Sobeys? A business with a strong presence in this region may not advertise when it's sold to a larger company elsewhere, may not change much about the way it looks or operates and continue to employ locally and invest in Nova Scotia. The big difference going forward is the lion's share of money spent locally in these stores will not necessarily be circulated here, but will leave the province. We're always thankful to readers who let us know of changes in the local landscape. It's also good to know we're not the only ones struggling to define the local.

Shannon MacLean, coordinator for the Nova Scotia chapter of the Business Alliance of Local Living Economies, explains that if there is uncertainty regarding potential membership they will consider special circumstances. "We don't have a flour mill in Nova Scotia," she says. "But Speerville"--- in New Brunswick---"does buy a lot of Nova Scotia grain. Plus, it's just a good business to support. As a board we discuss these issues amongst us and have a vote about it." 

Her suggestion is, when in doubt about the business ownership, inquire at the source. "We point blank ask them." a

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