There’s been a lot of pain to go around with the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of who you are—your status in life, your wealth, your age—the disease has affected you in some way. Across the world, tens of millions of people have been sick, roughly a million have died, and the global economy is suffering from major trauma.
Here in Canada, there has been much of the same—sickness, social distancing, and livelihoods under threat. Two of the hardest-hit work sectors are the tourism industry and small business.
“We’re not alone in it; it’s a global pandemic,” explains Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI) CEO Gordon Orr. “At the end of the day, it really crushed the hospitality and tourism business to the point that entrepreneurs have had to pivot and small businesses have had to look at how they do business and how they can proceed going forward.”
He says the tourism industry has been decimated by the pandemic. Hotel occupancies are very low and major hubs of commerce that rely on an open border—like Caesars Windsor—are taking monumental hits.
During the summer, TWEPI joined forces with the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce and launched ShopYQG to help stimulate commerce during the pandemic. Anyone who tagged themself on social media with #ShopYQG after shopping local was entered into a weekly draw. Combined with their Summer Staycation initiative and the coming Fall Roadtrip Guide, Holiday Gift Guide, and WE Made It brochure, TWEPI is pushing for a resurgence in the local economy.
TWEPI vice-president Lynnette Bain has met with local Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) to discuss collaborative efforts, show them how TWEPI can provide education and train them to better equip their staff, and share best practices. “Tecumseh business owners are facing many of the same challenges as other communities,” says Tecumseh BIA chair Candice Dennis. The BIAs have been doing what they can to fight COVID-19 on the street level to help save their local businesses and restaurants with programs like BIA Dollars. Dennis explains that the Tecumseh BIA Dollars program gives the consumer a 20 percent discount for every dollar purchased.
“To me, it’s a win for the businesses,” explains Tecumseh BIA coordinator Paula Rorai. “They don’t lose any money by accepting the Tecumseh Dollars, and once they spread the word around to their customers or clients, hopefully, they get additional business and that is really the whole idea of it.”
Three Lambs Baby Registry and Boutique owner Jeanine Jodoin has been able to weather the COVID storm. “It was initially scary when they shut everything down and all the big box stores were forced to shut,” she explains. “I was able to quickly pivot and start offering curbside [pickup] immediately. I was making Easter baskets and all that kind of stuff. As scary as it was, I was able to pivot and adapt, which was really good.”
Jodoin says that Tecumseh BIA Dollars have been a big help in retaining customers. As a small business owner, she faces customers who have a habit of trying to haggle down her prices when it’s not really a possibility for her. “I say, what I can do is I can give you a tip. This is what your total is . . . if you drive down the road to the BIA, tell them you need $3-400 worth of BIA Dollars, they’ll charge you 20 percent less.”
“People are grateful because they’re saving 20 percent. You can’t get a UPPAbaby Vista anywhere in Canada at 20 percent less. Here, I can send you down the road, and you come back and buy it—and it doesn’t cost me a thing.”
LaSalle’s Natasha Iannicello loves to support local businesses when she shops and feels that supporting them during the pandemic is important. “I messaged Jeanine about getting a Veer wagon for my kiddies and she had mentioned Tecumseh BIA dollars,” says Iannicello. “I figured this would be a great opportunity for me to not only support her but [Tecumseh] as well. The purchase was expensive and the people that run the BIA Dollars were fantastic . . . I think it is just amazing that they are doing this to keep people supporting their local mom-and-pop shops.”
Rose Rennie enjoys hitting up Tecumseh stores like Tabouli’s by Eddy, FRANK Brewery, Johnny Shots, Zehrs, and Home Hardware. “It’s a win-win situation. It brings you into the local businesses, supports local, and you, as a customer, also get a discount.
“I think it shows you’re invested in your community. It keeps the community thriving,” she adds. “You get those familiar faces and Tecumseh’s a great place to live so you want to keep the businesses open and doing well.”
Kristie Sabga is also all about local. She shops at them all—Closet Cravings, The Dandelion, Atlantis Hot Tub and Pool Centre, Armando’s Pizza, and Kabobgy, among many others. “It’s encouraging me to shop in my town and keep my dollars in the town,” says Sabga. “As opposed to going outside of [Tecumseh], I get to support local.
“For me, supporting a local business means supporting a local family. Most of these businesses here in town are run by families and so it’s not supporting a big corporation where we don’t know who the people are, it’s supporting the family next door who is running maybe a skate shop or the family down the road who has the hardware store.”
The Belle River On The Lake BIA ran a similar program this summer, offering 15 cents on every dollar. BIA chairman Moe Mailloux, who also owns Moe Mailloux Financial Services in Belle River, says the program was a success and was run similarly as to how they do their Holiday Dollars during the Christmas holidays.
“COVID’s been a challenge for everybody, especially these small shops,” states Mailloux. “We put $6,000 into a fund to offset 15 percent of [purchases] for the local community.” He says they were able to generate $43,000 in sales for their district. In addition, the BIA distributed hand sanitizer to their businesses and helped provide COVID-19 signage and forms, social media contests, Stroll the Street events, and have hired on Digital Mainstreet Service Squad to help Lakeshore businesses build their online presence.
The Windsor-Essex Small Business Centre is also providing excellent resources to help small businesses that are struggling through the pandemic. Their COVID-19 Response & Business Support page provides business owners with advice on how to reopen and how to keep COVID-19 out of their workplace as well as providing information on where to find government support, job programs, employment insurance, how to collect CERB, work sharing, WSIB, taxes, and local municipal programs, among other things.
Gordon Orr reminds us that the best way to help our local economy and keep our local businesses going is to keep supporting local.
“It’s going to be a long road ahead of us for this recovery and that’s why the response phase has been so important, and the restart phase, to try to get locals to celebrate and support local,” he states. “We’re really counting on Windsorites and our friends in the county to support the businesses right here in our own backyard.”