Dinelle’s Country Market in Echo Bay – Hydro Rates weigh heavy

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It’s clear, when speaking with Loggy Dinelle, that the sheer exhaustion of trying to stay competitive in small town Ontario has profoundly impacted him. Loggy Dinelle is the owner/operator of Dinelle’s Country Market in Echo Bay, Ontario.

On Saturday, October 15th, 2016, Dinelle, and his son Wyatt met with Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha, and Echo Bay Mayor Lynn Watson to share the current state of affairs for the grocery store.

If all things were equal, recent upgrades and improvements to some of Dinelle’s Country Market infrastructure would have served the business well moving forward. Refrigeration Units, Freezers, Coolers, Compressors and more, received energy efficient upgrading. But all things are not equal. Hydro rates have soared through the roof. Dinelle’s Country Market, is one of many, on an ever-growing list of small businesses in Ontario, that quite simply cannot keep up with a moving target called hydro rates. Rural and small town Ontario businesses where substantial energy consumption is essential to the daily operations of the business, are hard pressed to find the money in already tight margins.

20161015_131846Dinelle would rather not be the canary in the coal mine, sharing his story, but the grocery market his family has operated since 1979 has reached the precipice. After 37 years in business, Dinelle has made the difficult decision to close approximately two-thirds of square footage within the only grocery store in Echo Bay, Ontario. Built in 1858, the country market building has been a constant in the community of Echo Bay. Dinelle took over the business reigns from his father 22 years ago.

murtha with watson “Due to the increase of costs in doing business here, we’ve had to decrease the size of our store operation to be able to maintain some presence in the community. Over the course of 15 years, the hydro costs have gone from $2,000 to $5,000 (per month)” said Dinelle.

The grocery store has also been affected by the Hwy 17 By-Pass, which swings north of Echo Bay. When wages for seven staff are factored in, the shrinking profit margins have made it impossible for the grocery store to stay in business in its current form.

Dinelle’s Country Market began a new operational format on Saturday, October 15, going from 7 staff to 3. The front portion of the store is open, but the largest section where fresh produce, meats, bakery and other grocery items were found, is now closed.

MPP Michael Mantha, Algoma-Manitoulin was hoping to navigate solutions for this small business, but hydro rates have made solutions elusive to find. “The decision was taken out of the hands of this family run business.  A person cannot operate a business like this, particularly in northern Ontario, and across the province when you see the dramatic increase in electricity cost.”

20161015_132913New lights and heating system were recently undertaken to modernize the building.

“The mom and pop shops cannot compete anymore with increases in energy prices. We need someone to step up and make difficult decisions on what we are going to need to do in order for these small businesses to survive,” said MPP Mantha.

In a recently released letter by OCSA, (Ontario Convenience Store Association) a not-for-profit provincial association, ‘Rising Rural Hydro Rates Hurt Small Business’, it was stated that ‘Discrepancy in hydro rates across the country are punishing small business, especially those located in designated rural areas with exorbitant delivery charges. This higher delivery rate puts businesses on an unlevel playing field. The Ontario government continues to subsidize large industrial businesses to reduce their costs while ignoring small institutions.’

The author of the letter, who owns two parallel businesses, posted an info-graphic to further make the case for discrepancy in fair play. The chart below shows a monthly invoice from both Ontario stores; one in Kemptville, and the other in Ottawa.  The stores use approximately 18,500 KwH for the month (July,2016) and both have a similar time of use pattern.

dinellemarkethydroratesinfographicThe letter goes on to say, ‘These rural rates charged by Hydro One are absolutely punishing, and my company will think long and hard about making further investments in Ontario where rural rates apply.  And as sad as it is for the senior representative of an Ottawa owned and operated company to say, the Province of Quebec has become our best option for making an investment in new stores.’

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Echo Bay, Ontario with a population 1,464, is part of the Township of Macdonald, Meredith and Aberdeen Additional. Mayor Lynn Watson stated, “Our community is full of senior citizens and people on fixed incomes who don’t have the means or ability to go (grocery shopping) to different places. This will be the first time that we won’t have a full grocery store operating in our community since Echo Bay was established about 130 years ago. It’s a sad state of affairs.” he said

“Some of the people who work here have done so for many years. The impact to employment is significant.”

Watson participates on several boards and committees in his role as Mayor. “Wherever we go, we’re continually hearing from other businesses that are facing the same thing. They either have to move out of province or close due to high energy prices.”

Wyatt Dinelle, who was hoping to someday take over the grocery store from his father, is now facing an uncertain future as Dinelle’s Country Market enters a re-imagined format in the rural township.

Dinelle’s on Facebook.com 

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