Editorial: Decision on possible nightclub/bar shouldn’t be based on impact on similar businesses

Reasonable people can disagree about the wisdom of allowing the owner of the Strand Theatre on Churchill Drive to operate a nightclub/bar in the basement of the building for special events, but council should probably not be swayed by the arguments of a business owner who operates other liquor-serving establishments in the area and therefore has a vested interest in making sure that his establishments do not have yet another competitor that could possibly lure away some of their customers.

To be clear, as the owner of two taxpaying businesses in the City of Thompson - the Thompson Inn, located just down the street from the Strand, and the Burntwood Hotel - Manfred Boehm has every right to contribute his thoughts to the public hearing on the Georgina Tsitsos’s conditional use application to enable her to use the movie theatre’s basement as a potential nightclub/bar. This editorial isn’t arguing that city council should approve that application or disapprove it, but whatever decision is made, it needs to be made for the right reasons.

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There is definitely an argument to be made that, given the problems bars, vendors and even restaurants that serve alcohol have the potential to cause in Thompson, the city should effectively put a moratorium on more such businesses within city limits. But the fact that some, or possibly all, licensed establishments in Thompson are having a hard time making money because there are too many of them for the town’s population is not one of those arguments. it isn’t the job of city council to decide who should win the battle for consumers’ dollars, or even to protect established businesses, be they recent additions to the city’s economy or longstanding ones, from upstarts that seek to dethrone the old guard. The nature of capitalism is to let the market decide who thrives and who doesn’t. The fact that the proposed business, which doesn’t seem to intend to operate on a regular basis, is one involved with alcohol, shouldn’t factor into the decision. 

When Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation decided it wanted to open a gas station on its Mystery Lake Hotel property, it was allowed, as it was when Co-op decided to open a second location. No one is standing in the way of the construction of a Super 8 hotel on the site of the old Interior Inn, just as they did not when the Best Western Hotel or Quality Inn & Suites were constructed, even though making money providing accommodations isn’t as easy these days as it was a dozen years ago, when the price of nickel was sky-high and contractors flocked to the city in droves. People would think it unwise to say, for example, that only Ford but not Honda could conduct winter weather testing in Thompson.

It isn’t up to city council to pick winners and losers in the local economy. It is their job to provide a level playing field and to create an environment that welcomes new businesses, or expansions by existing businesses, in order to grow the city’s tax base and reduce the amount that each existing taxpayer has to pay to keep city services running.

While there may be compelling reasons to say no to the proposed nightclub/bar in the basement of the Strand Theatre, it could create a dangerous precedent. What if someone were to come forward with a proposal to develop a new licensed restaurant in Thompson? Would the other restaurant owners get together to oppose the application on the grounds that it could hurt their business? The municipal government probably shouldn’t get into the practice of protecting individual operators at the expense of growing particular sectors of the economy. Nor should anyone expect, whether the conditional use application is approved or denied, to see a significant difference either way in the overall amount or impact of liquor-related issues on the community or in a neighbourhood that already has more than handful of businesses engaged in selling alcohol within about a block or block-and-a-half radius.

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