Revelstoke, B.C. Community Pride Creates a Superb Rural Experience for Visitors

by Joanne Steele on September 1, 2009

Each town is a collection of unique circumstances involving place, people, resources and how they interact.

Revelstoke, B.C. is a wonderful example of:

1. Chance good luck – Nobody saw a reason in the 50’s and 60’s to reface their old buildings with the terrible facades so many towns are now having to remove. So the town is a true step back in time with original buildings.

2. Good location – They are located right on the highway leading to some of Canada’s most beautiful and most visited National Parks – but so is Golden, which somehow didn’t capture the opportunity in the same way.

3. Great recreation – I was told by a local that Revelstoke is a heli-skiing center. They have a new ski area that could give them a chance to rival Whistler. And there are lakes and rivers nearby. And crazy bicyclists everywhere!

4. Resourceful people. This is what I want to talk about today.

Revelstoke’s resourceful and committed residents. What we all can learn.

By way of a disclaimer, Revelstoke might look like downtown Disneyland, but it isn’t. I heard about some of the problems the town is facing, but being there only 24 hours, I didn’t delve into the politics.

Revelstoke’s Community pride – “We love it here and so will you!”

Community pride in Revelstoke embraces visitors. There is enough confidence in their future that I didn’t hear any fear expressed that tourism would ruin the town for locals.

We attended the nightly summer downtown music concert and were delighted that it was an opportunity to meet and talk with locals. Many towns put on these events for visitors and locals stay away. Not in Revelstoke. A young couple we talked to estimated that nearly half of the people attending were locals. And this is typical. The musicians are local and folks come out to hear them.

One concern I had was that most stores weren’t open, and the town was full of people enjoying the music.

When I visited the next morning with Karen Olsson, owner of Inspiration Gift Boutique, a gift shop several blocks from the main intersection, she told me that she and other shopkeepers had tried opening in the evening.KarenOlsson

“Nobody came in to shop,” she said. “They strolled by, and some came in, but they weren’t downtown to shop. After we made the decision to close in the evenings, I came downtown for several weeks and watched for shopping bags, a sign that people were actually shopping. There were very few.”

Most restaurants were open and busy. Most shops were closed. So here was an example of informal surveying that led to a group decision by retail store owners to match store hours to customers’ needs.

Inspiration was an interesting store. It was clearly a higher end gift shop, carrying an interesting and unusual variety of dishes, knick-knacks, baby items, and more. I asked Karen how she bought for the store.

“I am here for both the locals and the visitors,” she declared. As we talked, a local resident walked in and went right to a display of ceramic collectibles. The woman picked out several she didn’t have, and one similar enough that she made an on the spot decision to start collecting that type as well.  Karen knows her local customers, and keeps them coming in again and again to see the new stock.

“I also watch trends in what visitors are looking for,” she added. “No key chains and spoons for our visitors anymore. I’ve been here for 23 years and I watch for changes in what visitors want. Anticipating those changes are part of being successful.”

Another thing I noticed about Karen’s store was that her window display was so compelling we were drawn to it the evening before when the store was closed. We decided then, to come back the next day.

But Karen wasn’t the only person we met to who talked up their town. Our evening was spent visiting with locals who took the time to say hello and were eager to tell why they lived in Revelstoke.

We talked to Maria Stagliano who has lived in town for over 20 years and never intended to leave because of the beauty of the area and all the interesting residents and visitors. Community involvement is a way of life for her.

We talked to newcomers, Steve and Pat Platt, who had recently moved up from the US to retire in Revelstoke. They didn’t originally intend to move here but were drawn by the beauty of the area, the friendliness of the people and the economic opportunities. They built a new building downtown, and went to extra expense to match the look of the historic downtown area.

We talked to Lida Caray who works in the visitor center during the summers and teaches in the local school during the school year. She sees the problems that come with being a tourism destination and was quick to point out how locals are coming together to address some of those problems.

Revelstoke has its own set of challenges.

When the ski area went in, property values soared, making it difficult for families to be able to afford to stay. Lida at the visitor center talked about how young outdoor enthusiasts were moving in to take their place, with the prospects for new families in the future. But she and others are worried about how the town will deal with the issue of affordable housing for all the service industry workers working in the shops and hotels.

The town is looking for solutions. I have the names of several of the folks who are on the affordable housing committee. When I get back home I’ll be contacting them to learn how they plan to proceed.

I know that this is a serious issue for many rural communities who are becoming successful tourism towns, so I will be taking a close look at the problem.

We were enchanted by Revelstoke. This was a place that provides visitors with a true rural experience. I was ready to stay another day… but a spot in the Lake Louise Campground was reserved for us, so we moved on.

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