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How to support local business in a time of social distancing

"A lot of small businesses have said, 'I can't survive this,'" says CFIB
Chamber of Commerce
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

Facing dramatic drops in traffic as COVID-19 spreads, small businesses are going into survival mode as COVID-19 spreads, and experts say it's more important than ever to buy close to home.   

Half of small businesses said they have already seen a drop in sales because of the economic effects of COVID-19, according to a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). A quarter of businesses said they wouldn't be able to survive for more than a month if income dropped by more than 50 per cent. 

Annie Dormuth, Alberta CFIB regional director, said they've been flooded with calls from small businesses through their resource centre

"Most calls we are getting right now are on how to navigate the temporary closure of a business and temporarily lay off employees," Dormuth said. "A lot of small businesses are bracing for long-term impacts of this, definitely more than a couple of weeks of temporary closure. This could be felt for a couple of months." 

The survey earlier this week said 17 per cent of small businesses in Alberta have started doing temporary layoffs. Further, 45 per cent of small businesses have already reduced hours for staff, and 38 per cent of them are experiencing supply chain issues. Dormuth said she expects these statistics are higher now. 

Many local businesses, including D'Arcy's Meat Market, Confections Cake Co., Sweet Boutique and Proline Electric are staying open and expanding in-store pickup options, or boosting their online sales platforms. Other businesses, such as External Affairs Medical Spas, the St. Albert Legion and Old Montreal Hotdog and Poutine have temporarily closed their doors.

On March 17, the provincial government limited restaurants, cafés, coffee shops and food courts to 50 per cent capacity with a maximum of 50 people. Gyms, daycares, bingo halls, spas and other businesses were closed to residents to encourage social distancing.  

These measures are in place to keep Albertans healthy and safe, though they are creating uncertainty for the financial stability of small businesses and their employees. Small businesses in Alberta, including St. Albert, were already struggling before the impacts of COVID-19. 

"We've pretty much been in an economic slump for five or six years, then we had news of the crash in oil and gas prices. Now a lot of small businesses have said, 'I can't survive this,'" Dormuth said. 

Local impacts

According to the survey, hospitality, arts and recreation, retail and personal services are taking the biggest hit.

External Affairs Medical Spas announced the temporary closure of both its locations on Wednesday. Clients who need prescriptions for bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) and migraine treatments can still reach External Affairs by phone or by email. 

President and CEO Larry Wilkins and clinical director Becky Wilkins said it is "impossible" to practice and maintain social distancing in the service industry. 

With an average of 1,400 clients per month and difficulties getting proper sanitization supplies under high demand, "rather than risk the health of our staff and families," closing became the safest option, Larry said. 

"Stay healthy. Stay safe. Put this thing to an end faster than anyone could possibly imagine. Be good Canadians – that will help us more than anything else."

The closure is expected to last at least three months, he said. Working with a skeleton crew, most staff have been temporarily laid off and are in the process of applying for unemployment. 

"For small businesses with zero revenues coming in, but we're still incurring expenses ... that's got to come from somewhere," Larry said. "I'm estimating that it's going to set us back anywhere between five and 10 years."

Not just small business 

Major Canadian retailers are also closing their stores in an effort to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, with some grocery store chains reducing or modifying their hours. 

Sobeys St. Albert is offering a daily shopping hour for seniors and those needing more assistance from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. Superstore St. Albert is also offering a senior shopping hour from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. 

The St. Albert Centre remains open with modified operating hours from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday. 

Many stores remain open inside the mall, including Quarks, Winners, London Drugs and Vitality Health. Others made the decision to close, including Telus, David's Tea, The Bay and Soft Mocs. 

How to support local

The St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce has set up a Facebook group called Support St. Albert to provide a platform for local businesses to share updates and information. More than 1,000 members have joined over the course of a day. 

In addition, the Chamber has put together an extensive list of businesses that will be remaining open, closing, or temporarily changing their hours during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Local businesses are the ones that support the community. They're the ones that pay the taxes, hire the staff, support the local sports teams, donate to charities – they're your neighbours," said Jennifer McCurdy, Chamber president and CEO. 

The Chamber will be sending out a survey to all businesses in St. Albert in the coming days to gather information about the impacts they may be facing due to COVID-19. 

Many other businesses are modifying their usual operations to reach customers in a time of social isolation. 

Bone & Biscuit in St. Albert is offering free delivery for anyone needing food for their pets.

Whisk Delivery and Co is offering free curbside pick-up if customers place an online order or call the store. Desserts will be run outside for pick up.

Dinner Factory will shop, prepare and deliver nine or more meals to residents in St. Albert and Edmonton. Any orders of nine meals or more will be delivered for free. 

Effing Seafoods is still open under modified hours, with store owner Rob Tryon allowing one customer in at a time.

Some gyms and fitness studios are live-streaming classes online. After closing down their studio, Lahari Yoga Studio started doing free daily morning yoga classes livestreamed on their Facebook page

"There are so many things you can do to support local businesses right now, even if you have to stay at home," McCurdy said. 

Buying gift cards, ordering take-out once a week or whenever possible, leaving positive reviews on Yelp and following local businesses on social media, are all additional ways to offer support right now, she said.

Brittany Gervais

About the Author: Brittany Gervais

Brittany Gervais joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2020. She writes about business and health, general news and features.
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