How an Alberta town encouraged shopping locally in 1989

High River, Alta., had a problem: local people doing their holiday shopping were drawn to stores in the big city.

Credit union offered interest-free loans for buying at merchants in High River, Alta.

An enticement to shop local in 1989

33 years ago
Duration 2:39
Merchants in High River, Alta. and the town credit union team up to give shoppers a reason not to buy in the big city.

High River, Alta., had a problem in 1989: local people doing their holiday shopping were drawn to stores in the big city.

"Like many small towns, High River merchants have been fighting a losing battle to keep their customers," said reporter Mary Barroll in an item from December 1989.

Instead, shoppers favoured the "bright lights and seemingly endless selection" available in the city.

"At Christmas time, it's especially tough for merchants to compete," said Barroll. "But this year, they've decided to fight back."

Battle for survival 

A credit union employees explained that the interest-free loans could range from $300 to $1,500. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

"We are vying for the same dollar as the city stores are," said the owner of a women's clothing store and former president of the High River chamber of commerce. "We have to be able to compete with them."

A strong incentive came from the Pioneer Credit Union in town, in the form of an interest-free loan of up to $1,500.

"The deal: they have to spend the money at High River businesses," said Barroll.

A further requirement was that the money be spent in the month of December. Anything left over was credited back to the borrower's account.

Barroll said 57 businesses had bought into the program at a cost of $100 each. In exchange, they were listed in a brochure and were included in advertising in the High River Times newspaper and on CHRB radio.

'We're cheaper'

"It's ... letting the people know that they can shop locally, that we are competitive with the city," said a spokesman for a participating High River store. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

"In most cases we're cheaper," said a manager at a store that appeared to sell a wide variety of goods. He said the plan had even enticed big-city buyers to the small town.

"We have had some occasions where we've had some Calgary shoppers coming out, buying the Christmas cheques, and shopping locally in High River because of the price and the interest-free program."

The credit union had benefited too, making 145 loans in total — two-thirds of which were to new customers, said Barroll. 

"It really drew my eye," said Diane Charlton, who had signed up for a loan. "What a fabulous idea, to keep the business in High River ... was the number-one thing that I really liked."

Local merchants said the program had proven to be "a new way to bring Christmas home," according to the reporter. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

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