An inauspicious anniversary passed by last week as Ontarians everywhere marked 365 days since the first provincial lockdown.
An estimated 3.4 million employees across the province packed up what they could from the office, cleared some space off their dinning room table and began working for home for ‘a few weeks’. Some have since found their way back to their office, some (like the person writing this editorial) are still working while others in the ‘office’ watch Disney’s The Little Mermaid for the 200th time while jumping on the couch.
Challenging as it was for employees, small business owners had an overwhelming list of hurdles as they attempted to stay afloat over the last 12 months.
As our horizons got smaller over the last year we were forced to re-think boundaries. That applied particularly to our shopping habits. It turns out those campaigns encouraging consumers to spend their dollars locally had a point-it really does benefit a community to shop at home. When travelling outside the region was no longer an option, it was nice to have the necessities available within the Hastings and Lennox and Addington bubble.
Locally, family run businesses were there when the community needed them most in the early stages of the pandemic. The government hasn’t exactly made it easy for them at times, often allowing bigger box stores more liberties than the Mom and Pop organizations. Those that were allowed to stay open to in-person shopping or dining were left to manage an ever-changing landscape of health rules and regulations. Everything from training staff to redesigning their store layout in a configuration that best protects its staff and customers. Even the most forward thinking of small business owner couldn’t have possibly been prepared for what the last year threw at the world.
The KFLA and Prince-Edward Hastings Health Units, for the most part, have fared better than most in terms of COVID-19 case numbers. That’s no doubt in large part due to the fact shoppers within their boundaries are able to find what they want without having to travel to ‘red’ zones such as Toronto or Ottawa. Conversely, keeping shoppers from those areas out of the community has no doubt helped reduce numbers as well. While that makes for better COVID-19 stats, fewer visitors to the region isn’t great for business. That’s particularly true for sectors that benefit from an influx of traffic during tourists seasons.
According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), small businesses across the country have accrued a combined $135 billion in debt attributed to the pandemic. An estimated 70 per cent of small business owners have had to borrow funds over the last year.
As doors start to re-open and businesses look to rebound from a year of huge financial losses, there are plenty of lessons that were learned from the first waves of the pandemic. Mainly if we want to be able to shop local, it’s important to shop local. The same people who provide local jobs, sponsor events and offer the things we need right in our own backyard will need local shoppers to return the favour over the next few months.