Too many years ago a group of us on motorcycles took a trip to the East coast, a trip on which we planned to use the ferry at Bar Harbour, Maine to take us to Nova Scotia. For those who can remember, our trip started on the day Donald Kelly escaped custody and we were only a few miles out of North Bay when we were stopped by a police roadblock. Our group consisted of a policeman, a transit driver, a newspaper reporter, a Classics professor and an accountant so we were judged harmless, not only at the roadblock, but later at the US border.
We arrived at Bar Harbour an hour before sailing time but found that the ferry was full, and indeed, completely booked for the next day as well. We asked one of the staff about accommodations in Bar Harbour and he laughed and said there was little chance of anything, but if we went up the road to Blue Hill, we could stay at the Blue Hill Motel.
Sure enough, the Blue Hill had rooms for us and the owner was quite happy to have bikers, as was not always the case back then.
The motel did not have a restaurant but the owner said he always sent the Bar Harbour Run Off to a seafood restaurant just down the road. We inquired as to our new moniker, and were told that was the name he gave to people who missed the ferry or did not know enough to reserve passage. He never advertised, but simply relied on the overflow or Run Off to fill his rooms. (The restaurant was owned by a chef from Montréal and the food was excellent.)
I often recall that name, Bar Harbour Run Off, and think about that man’s business plan. He spent nothing on advertising, but relied solely on other people’s misfortune to make a living. Other businesses in Bar Harbour advertised and indeed we had brochures saying what a pleasant place it was to visit when taking the ferry to Canada. The Blue Hill Motel simply went along for a free ride.
Which brings me, finally, to my point. I wonder how many businesses in North Bay relied on the Heritage Festival Run Off to supplement their summer earnings. We hear of the millions of dollars that the Festival brings into the City each year, but do we know how much support the local businesses provide in return? It seems that more and more out-of-town vendors are showing up and one wonders if all those millions of dollars are even staying in town anymore.
In fact, how much of our local money is leaving North Bay? I know the mantra about spin off jobs, but when vendors bring their own help, like the Midway folks, how much do they really add to our economy? I would guess that in the case of the Midway, they take away more than they attract. Bachman may have bought a guitar, but he surely left with more in his jeans pocket than when he arrived.
Somewhere along the line we seemed to have shifted focus to importing talent, entertainment and vendors, perhaps for good reason, but in the end have we created a number of Festival Run Off businesses who spend little to nothing on the Festival and take the spin offs for free
Of course, as patrons we should feel obligated to support our businesses that sponsor events for us all year round. Would I buy a lunch at the Festival from Mamma Davedi or from some travelling road show food vendor? No question about that. But if I know that I won’t have that option, I’ll eat at home and not spend a few extra dollars at the Festival. I suspect that is what is happening as a number of people rationalize not spending at the Festival.
So I too become a Festival Run Off. I take advantage of the entertainment but contribute little other than the cost of the wrist band. Soon there is no money to be made by the vendors and they too will abandon the City as a town where people do not support events.
And maybe that is what we really are – a town trying to run a big city event. Maybe we are pushing our Festival to be something too big for our size. Maybe our reach has exceeded our grasp. Perhaps we should be focussing on smaller events every weekend instead of one big weekend extravaganza.
Would we be better off in attracting visitors (and entertaining ourselves) if we had some event every weekend during the summer? We could become a summer destination instead of a weekend destination. Maybe those rich folk down south would learn that North Bay always has something happening every summer weekend. As the Muskokas overflow with the mob from the GTA, we would soon benefit from the Muskoka Run Off.
Once that four-lane highway is completed we won’t even have to advertise – we can just sit back and chuckle like the fellow at Blue Hill, Maine as the Bar Harbour Run Off came to his door.