Monthly Archives: October 2013

Hump Day: “Buy local” only works when the lights are on and someone’s home

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

Every once in awhile on Facebook, I see a status update urging everyone to shop locally and support small homegrown businesses.

Sadly, these notes are also interwoven with posts about people spending all their Christmas shopping money in Bangor. Trips are organized. Vacation days are taken from work. Credit cards are spit-shined and buffed to make sure they’re pretty for their trip to the U.S. and getting swiped through all those foreign cash registers.

I’ve never been a fan of cross-border shopping. I can’t imagine the deals are that good to make the time invested driving there even remotely worth it, but apparently from those who are fans of the practice, it’s indeed a worthwhile trek. I much prefer to stick around here and help the local economy. Of course, if I find myself in another city, fine, but I would never travel just to shop.

I like investing in local businesses and artisans as much as I can. I think we have many brilliant entrepreneurs around here who work hard to put out good products for their customers. You may pay a bit more, but the quality and service are usually a mile ahead of anything you’d see in a large chain store.

However, I have a bone to pick to with some local businesses because of something that’s happened to me a grand total of five times in the past year – each time at a different business offering goods and services completely unrelated to the other. The only thing they had in common was that they were a small locally owned retail or service business with one location. As well, their hours of operation were posted to their door.

Come in, we're open!Now, keep in mind that I was trying to give them my money. I run my own consulting business, so I completely understand the pressures of being there for your clients at all hours. Also, I don’t work in a retail environment so my hours are a lot more flexible. I still have to put in the time, mind you, but which 12 hours of the day I work are up to me. They can be in a long stretch or broken up into segments. I get it. The retail environment is tough.

Unfortunately, when you’re a small locally owned retailer, you’re a slave to the hours posted to your front door – at the very least. On top of that, there’s all the paperwork, stocking, cleanup, etc. You have to love it.

My beef is that some locally owned businesses aren’t honouring the hours they have posted. I can’t tell you how insane I get when I speed across town to try and give my money to a locally owned business only find the doors locked up tight and the lights off – and this despite the posted hours on their door. Am I late? No. They aren’t supposed to close for another 30 minutes. Is there a note in the window saying there was a death in the family or an emergency?

Nope, none of that. They just decided to close early, likely because it wasn’t busy. Well, I hate to tell you, my dear local entrepreneurs, but I showed up at your door during your posted business hours with my money in hand and very willing to give it to you. What I was met with was a locked door even though you said you would be open.

Now, I understand things happen, but that’s why you should at least put a note in the window. “Had to close early today for family reasons. Sorry for the inconvenience.” Or whatever reason, really. My point is to at least acknowledge the people like me who are showing up at your door with money to give you when you haven’t held up your part of the bargain, i.e. being open when you’re supposed to.

And if it’s near closing time, you can bet I probably had to speed across town through traffic to make it to your store before you closed. That’s what happened to me last Friday when I zig-zagged through rush hour traffic to get to an establishment before it closed. I got there 15 minutes early with money in hand, but the owner had already left.

So you know what I did, dear local entrepreneurs? I went to a national chain and spent my money there instead. In this particular case, the chain was more expensive, but I knew that there was no way they’d close early. They respect their hours – period!

This has happened to me at a few other places, too. I made a 14-kilometre round trip once to a specialty food store only to find the doors locked up tight – two hours before (what I thought was) closing time. I’d even checked online. Unfortunately, though, the new business hours hadn’t been updated. When I advised the owner, he apologized profusely and offered me a discount coupon – which was obviously the right thing to do. But, to be honest, I’ve never been back, so the discount likely won’t be used.

Another time, I showed up at a small food retailer 20 minutes before closing only to find the doors locked. Yet again, it wasn’t busy so they decided to close early. I know this because the owner saw me trying to open the door, so she re-opened the store and told me why she closed early. I think that was another 15-kilometre round trip. I handed her my money after getting what I needed and she closed up shortly after that, I imagine. I’ve been there since many times. They’ve always been open, thankfully.

If you’re a local retailer, let me be clear: I want to give you my business but please respect your business hours. If you don’t, the big chains will, without fail. And if I’m in a particularly ornery mood, I just might not give you another chance.

Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada to honour four dancers at 2013 Grant Thornton Velvet Gala

2013 Grant Thornton Velvet Gala
Click on the photo for a larger version.

Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada’s 2013 Grant Thornton Velvet Gala will be held on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, beginning at 7 p.m. with a performance at the Capitol Theatre followed at 8:45 p.m. by dinner across the street at the Delta Beauséjour. Tickets are $150 each or $1,500 per table of 10. A charitable receipt will be issued for $100 per ticket. To purchase tickets, call 506-383-5951 Ext.102 or email Louis-Philippe Dionne at louis@atlanticballet.ca.

This year, Atlantic Ballet Theatre will be inducting four of their original dancers / longtime dancers into their Founders’ Circle: former dancers Kosta Voynov and Evelina Sushko, and current dancers Sergiy Diyanov and Yuriko Diyanova. Get your tickets now because this event sells out every year!

Hump Day: Time has come for home renovation… or relocation

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

Many of my neighbours have been out in their yards lately getting ready for the fast-approaching winter. Leaves are being raked. Flower beds and gardens are being stripped and small repairs are being made around their properties before the snow flies. Better to be nailing down that loose shingle on the roof in October rather than during a December blizzard, right?

Meanwhile, if my house could talk, it would give me a good tongue-lashing. Wait? Do houses have tongues? Hey, I never let common sense get in the way of making a point before. Why should I start now?

Anyway, my poor neglected house is likely staring at the others in the neighbourhood wondering when it’s going to get a bit of its own makeover. The siding could stand to be changed. The front walkway needs replacing. The metal railings on the front steps are so rusty they’ll likely start disintegrating soon.

The driveway needs to be repaved badly. How badly? Well, I’ll tell ya. Whenever the lawn gets mowed, so does the end of the driveway near the garage. Let’s just say that it looks more like a hayfield some days rather than a paved driveway.

As for my bathroom. Oh woe is me! What a hot mess. It’s screaming for a paint job. The ceiling is so disgusting that it may just end up looking like folk art one of these fine days. Someone’s bound to ask me if it’s dirt, grime or mould. I’ll just say I had an artist in to paint some freaky design on there; you know, because I’m hip like that.

The caulking around the tub and toilet look like something out of a horror movie. The wall tiles that were installed about 40 years ago by previous owners are starting to fall off. Really, the entire bathroom needs to be gutted. From what everyone tells me, those suckers can really empty your wallet once you get going. Once you start tearing down tiles and removing toilets, there’s bound to be water damage there somewhere.

The next thing you know, you have a bathroom that has nothing left but a hole in the floor for the toilet and bare walls down to the studs. That’s one of the reasons I’m so afraid to get someone to completely renovate the bathroom. I just know that the minute they remove one little thing, I’m going to hear, “Uh oh!” and I’ll be using a bucket for a toilet for two weeks because the entire bathroom needs to be replaced.

But really, a coat of paint can brighten things up, right? I’m sure that will help. A bit of new caulking won’t be so bad. The rest is certainly passable. After a few tiles are glued back on the wall, it will kind of look like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree after the kids decorated it. Pitiful at first, then a thing of so-so beauty!

The rest of the house needs painting, too. I had it painted completely white (everything, ceilings and all the walls) when I moved in 12 years ago. The pastel colours that were here before were awful, at least in my opinion, so I got them covered up with something bright. The painter told me at the time that he’d just finished painting the inside walls of the convent on King Street all white. Well, if it was good enough for the nuns, it was good enough for me, too! One step closer to heaven!

But now that nice white paint has been scuffed, scratched and chipped and is in dire need of a refresh. My goodness… could I even contemplate adding colour? Green? Red? Yellow? I’d better stop. I’m scaring myself. My dull earth-tone décor would freak out seeing all that colour around.

And then there’s my kitchen. My poor kitchen. You know how the Ghost of Christmas Past screams in terrifying agony and remorse in the classic 1951 version of A Christmas Carol? Yeah, that’s what I do every time I enter my kitchen.

Because of my penchant for gadgets, there’s barely any counter space for preparing food. The pantry I bought and assembled to store food is chock full of various spices and canned goods for recipes I planned on making but never got around to. Have you ever bought a spice at the bulk store that you absolutely had to have for a recipe but didn’t bother marking the name of the spice on it because surely you’d remember what was in that little clear plastic bag?

Yeah, I have, too. And eventually, the contents of that clear bag of mystery spice get dumped in the garbage. That has happened to me so many times that you’d think I’d have learned my lesson. And then, of course, there’s finding that “thing” you bought just a few months ago only to discover that the best-before date was 2008. “But, but, I just bought that!” Yeah, five years ago. Oyyy!

My dining room table looks like an episode of hoarders. It’s become the storage place of small appliances, flyers, bulk boxes of Keurig coffee cups, a briefcase and a coat or two or three. Honestly, the table would probably explode in shock if someone actually ate a meal on it. That poor table. I had so many plans for dinner parties with good friends when I bought it a few years ago. We were going to eat delicious meals, drink too much wine and make wonderful memories. Yup, that’s what we were gonna do.

So, I guess I have some work to do. A big overhaul like this is meant to be bitten off in tiny chunks. One project at a time. Pay it off, then do the next one. Or, I could just put a match to the place and start over from the fire insurance settlement.

Or move. Hmmm. Anyone know a good real estate agent?

Hump Day: Spinning my wheels on winter driving safety

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

There’s one thing about buying new versions of gadgets and other major purchases such as vehicles. Often, it’s difficult to buy related accessories at first. They’re so new, the rest of the industry hasn’t caught up yet.

Case in point: I couldn’t buy a case for my new smartphone last year because it was a new model that was slightly larger than the previous model. No case would fit it. So, not only did I shell out big bucks for a new smartphone (and was bound by a three-year contract), I had to walk around with it completely unprotected for weeks before I could find a case that fit. The market hadn’t yet caught up with a line of accessories.

It drove me mad. I made a promise then and there to wait for a few months after the launch of a new smartphone so that accessories – especially good cases that fit on my belt — were available. I’m not saying that carrying it around in my pocket while it was on vibrate was unpleasant, but it’s just plain weird to be hoping for a wrong number all the time or walking up to perfect strangers and yelling at them to call you. Bzzzzzzzz… woohoo!

I bought a new vehicle a few months ago and the time has come for winter tires. I don’t buy new tires very often, thankfully, because those suckers are very expensive! I have an SUV, so they’re even more expensive than usual.

I’ve been shopping around for a few weeks, but it wasn’t easy to find the right size because my vehicle seemed to be one of the only models out there that took that odd size of tire. I did manage to find some, though, and I think I’ve made my decision — but the choice certainly wasn’t huge. The size is so rare (at least it was until this year) that even online searches proved to be virtually futile.

Luckily, as the weeks passed, the tire companies caught up with the (probably) hundreds of thousands of these new vehicles sold in the last little while and began offering a wider variety of winter tires available in the proper size. Even just a few weeks after I began looking, I was met with a quicker response from vendors than I did before. At first, it was “Oh dear, that’s an odd size!” Now, it’s “OK, let’s see what we have.”

Now, the debate moves to what kind of winter tires to get. Studded or non-studded. (I’ll be getting a lot of email by just asking, I’m sure.) I asked the question online and got people who swore one way or the other. It certainly wasn’t unanimous, although studded seemed to be an inch ahead in the informal survey.

The biggest complaint against studded tires was the noise factor. It’s true that driving on studded tires produces a loud-ish hum that takes some getting used to. I’ve always had winter studded tires, so the hum doesn’t bother me at all after the initial few hours of getting accustomed to it. After a day or so, I don’t even hear it. Other people, though, are driven batty by the sound and just can’t get used to it. For me, the noise factor is a non-issue.

Then there’s the tearing-up-theroads argument: studded tires are very hard on the roads. True, but a lot of things are hard on the roads. My main concern is my personal safety. So far, studs have served me quite well.

They do cost more — up to $20 more per tire for someone to sit in the tire shop and insert studs individually into each tire before it’s installed on your vehicle. Some tires come pre-studded, although that’s not every common. Often, they simply come with the small holes ready for studs if you choose to get them.

Then I started doing research. I swear, this question is right up there with searching for nutrition advice or whether or not to get an Apple or PC computer. Arguments go both ways. Everyone seems to make sense. And people are passionate!

One person in a tire shop says he swears by studded tires. Another says it’s a personal choice. Another isn’t convinced they’re necessary. One friend says I’ll die with them. Another friend says I’ll die without them. One article says they’re the best thing since sliced bread. Another says they’re useless on ice — or on pavement. I can’t remember. Either way, it’s all so confusing.

I know people who choose to drive an all-season tires year-round. It’s certainly not something I’d feel comfortable doing. I think I drove around on all-seasons during one winter when I had my first car. Never again. The year after, I invested in winter tires and have never driven on all-seasons in snow again. Way too stressful, if you ask me.

Plus, I don’t want to be one of those vehicles stopped at a red light on a bit at a bit of an incline that ends up spinning my wheels for 10 minutes to get going again. In an all-wheel drive SUV with four studded winter tires, there’s not much spinning at all. When I push the gas pedal, I want to move, not spin.

It’s not only about my safety, but the safety of others. We’ve all seen those cars spinning all over the road on tires that aren’t fit for winter driving. It’s just too dangerous. I owe it to myself and to others to be as safe as possible. I don’t want to worry constantly about being a danger. With that said, even though you have winter tires, it doesn’t mean you can drive like a maniac. Cautious winter driving caution is always the rule.

Now, I just have to rob a bank to pay for them. Safety doesn’t come cheap!