I find it hard to believe it was 16 years ago this week that I made my move west from King Township, Ontario to mighty Vancouver. I had no inkling at the time that I’d only be in that city a little under 2 years, or that 16 years later I’d be working on my 15th year in a small town that in a lot of ways mirrors the one I left, fighting the good fight as a small business owner. At times I’ve been asked how I did it, if I’d done it, and would I recommend it to others. The short answer is – maybe.
There is no denying Squamish’s entrepreneurial spirit. I see new businesses opening almost every week, everyone trying their ideas out on a very progressive market. Sadly, a lot fail. I couldn’t begin to peg a number, but in 14 years I’m sure it’s into the hundreds. I remember one of my first clients in Squamish was an old hand, and his first advice to me was: “Whatever you do, don’t do business here.” Ouch.
Part of the challenge doing business here is the very thing that people are sold on when considering living here: proximity to Vancouver and Whistler. I discovered right away that the winter driving conditions and surprisingly close-knit community in Whistler made doing business from Squamish almost impossible from an economic standpoint. Meanwhile Vancouver – well, either you do Vancouver entirely or don’t bother. Then there are other challenges that come with small towns generally.
The limited market means every job won or lost is life or death when you’re first starting out, and even for a while after. In small towns, people forge tight personal bonds – if you’re not from here, sometimes people just won’t even talk to you. In most aspects Squamish has become a pretty expensive place to live – house prices are double what they were when I started, in fact the Olympic announcement and real estate rush in late 2003 almost forced me to leave because we keep or couldn’t find a place to live. Squamish is a beautiful and great community, and it has gotten a bit easier with the addition of groups like Startup Squamish for support, but it’s still a shark tank.
More generally, there is the stress. Lying awake at night, broke, knowing the 1st of the month is four days away. People sometimes not paying you for months. You have to be a bit like a human Swiss army knife – part salesperson, part bookkeeper/accountant, part tax collector, part bill collector and then the guy who actually does the work.
Would I do it all again? Yes. I wear my 14 years in Squamish like a badge of honor. It is tough to get going and survive, and sometimes you will question your sanity, but I like to say if you can make a go of it in Squamish, you can go anywhere. Being your own boss is worth it. Being your own boss in Squamish? Totally worth it.