Duncan Fremlin, Broker, RE/MAX Hallmark Realty Ltd. — Neighbourhoods like Cabbagetown become particularly festive and colourful during the Christmas season. It’s also the time of year when we spend a lot of money. The small independently owned businesses in our neighbourhood are counting on it.
The importance of sole proprietorships became particularly important after the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1992. With increased trade with our neighbours to the south, the country had to adjust to the new economy. Starting a small business was a popular option that many Canadians embraced with gusto.
In 1993, a micro credit fund (ACCESS Riverdale) was created in the neighbourhood to help some of these start-up businesses meet their need for capital. At that time, interest rates were high and investment money was in short supply. Their mandate was to grant initial loans of up to $5,000.00 to qualified applicants.
When the fund was formed, I was invited to join the ACCESS Board of Directors and serve on the Loan Review Committee. It was a very exciting opportunity. I met hundreds of neighbours from every walk of life during my time there.
It worked this way. Each loan application that met our criteria was thoroughly investigated by two committee members who would then present their findings to the group. We’d then collectively discuss our findings and vote on the viability of the loan. These loans were managed by Alterna Savings.
Most of the applications began with a dream to be self-employed. Some of the business plans that we were asked to consider were conventional, a few were unusual. The young person who wanted to sell sex toys in a hardware store was perhaps the most bizarre. The shoemaker who needed money to buy a sewing machine was more typical.
I’m happy to report that this group of volunteers is still going strong and operating across the city as ACCESS Community Capital Fund. It is bigger and more important than ever.
During this Christmas season, some of these businesses on Parliament Street will be asking you and me to shop locally. How loyal and freewheeling we are with our money will make or break some of them. There are some exceptional retail stores within walking distance of our front door. Maybe this Christmas you’ll consider buying from them rather than a website. Our neighbourhood will be a much better place to live if you do.