To say that small businesses are important to our local economy is a vast understatement. Companies with fewer than 50 employees make up 98% of all businesses in BC and are responsible for more than 33% of our gross domestic product, higher than any other province in Canada.
Beyond their economic impact, local businesses are also an integral part of our communities. They provide jobs for our neighbours and venues for us to celebrate milestones, gather with friends, stay fit, and look our best.
Small business owners are some of the most resilient and resourceful people in our communities. They innovate, accommodate, and adapt to remain relevant in an ever-changing world dominated by big-box stores, large chains, and online shopping. Their entrepreneurial spirit drives them forward, despite incredibly tight margins that make turning a profit challenging at the best of times. But no one was prepared for COVID-19.
For many small businesses, social distancing was simply not possible. Personal services businesses, like nail salons, barbershops, hair salons, gyms, physiotherapy, and massage services, were forced to close overnight. In the hospitality industry, survival for restaurants and coffee shops meant reinventing themselves on a dime to cope until restrictions lift. Local retailers, like clothing and home goods stores, suddenly found themselves competing with retail giants as their customer base stayed home and shopped online en masse.
While the government acted swiftly with much-needed financial relief, the reality is that many of our favourite establishments will not survive without our help. Supporting local businesses now allows us to help them weather this storm and sends a clear message: they are a valued part of our community.
How can you help?
Since you can’t dine in at your favourite restaurant right now, consider making takeout a regular part of your weekly meal planning. Many restaurants that were dine-in-only before COVID-19 have since adapted to include takeout or delivery as a way to generate income and keep staff employed. National Takeout Day encourages Canadians to get takeout each Wednesday as a way to boost the local hospitality industry. If you’re not sure if your favourite spot is offering these services, check their website—you may be pleasantly surprised.
Though third-party apps like DoorDash, Foodora, Uber Eats and others make takeout easy, whenever possible, you should order directly from the restaurant itself. Delivery and pick-up apps charge a commission to the restaurant and reduce the income to the business. Depending on the restaurant’s margins, orders that come in via third-party apps can actually result in a loss for the restaurant. To keep some staff employed, many restaurants have also switched their wait staff to delivery people. By ordering direct, you may be helping your favourite servers keep their jobs.
If you’d like to kill two birds with one stone, take inspiration from some generous REALTORS® at our Stilhavn offices. They’ve donated lunches from local restaurants to our front-line workers, providing a boost to local business while simultaneously thanking those most at risk. Consider something similar if you have the means to do so, perhaps by purchasing non-perishable goods from local stores and donating them to neighbourhood food banks experiencing higher than usual demand.
As much as possible, try to buy your groceries from local businesses. Larger companies like Safeway, Walmart, Costco, and Save-On-Foods will all come out of this just fine. But if you enjoy your local butcher, bakery, cheese shop, greengrocer or fishmonger, consider purchasing your staples from these stores rather than the big chains —even if the cost is sometimes a bit higher.
In BC, we’ve also got plenty of local options for beer, wine, and spirits. Local brewers and specialty wine shops often have unique options at or below government store prices, and many of them are offering pick up and delivery services during this time. The BC Liquor Store will do just fine—check what your local shops are offering before you buy.
The retail and service sectors have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Like restaurants, many retail businesses that did not deliver before are now offering services to make shopping with them even more accessible. Check out your local hardware, garden supply, and other retailers to see if they offer delivery or curbside pick-up options.
You’re going to need to buy birthday and Christmas gifts anyway: why not buy now, rather than later? Local retailers, restaurants, and personal service providers may still be open with limited hours and social distancing. Even establishments currently closed to the public may offer online ordering. Purchase services from hair and nail salons or buy gift cards from your favourite shop or restaurant to use later. A boost now can make all the difference later to these small businesses.
Trying to stay fit when every night feels like a Friday night can feel like an uphill battle. Thankfully, many fitness studios and gyms are offering online training and classes to help you reach your goals, either as part of your ongoing monthly fees or as stand-alone paid sessions. Check out what your local studio is offering to support a local business while you stay in shape: win-win.
The local arts community is also suffering at this time, with public gatherings of any size discouraged and large ones outright prohibited. These restrictions mean that regional theatres, galleries, symphonies, and opera companies are shuttered for the foreseeable future. If you’re requesting a refund for an event that will no longer take place and the business is a not-for-profit organization, you may be able to ask that the cost of your ticket be processed as a donation in exchange for a tax receipt.
Even long-established landmarks are not immune to the effects of COVID-19. The Vancouver Aquarium is in dire need of help and facing permanent closure. Regardless of attendance and ticket sales, the animals still need to be fed and cared for. In an inspiring show of community support, the Vancouver Whitecaps have joined forces with the Aquarium to sell designer facemasks, with the profits going towards keeping the local institution open for generations to come. Order one of their designs now and support the Vancouver Aquarium.
Get Started Now
Ready to support the community but need a little help getting started? Check out Operation Support Local, which has teamed up with TV and radio stations to provide a list of locally owned vendors in your area. Just Google “Operation Support Local,” followed by your location.
Local businesses are at the heart of every community, and right now, they need our help. If we want them to be around when this pandemic ends—and it will—we need to do everything we can to support them right now.