The first COVID-19 lockdown was especially hard on Gather, a clothing boutique in Bowmanville that offers unique women’s fashions and home décor items.
“Most of our customers are regulars, and we had to close with no online sales system. We really suffered in the first lockdown,” said Janet Rogers, an employee of Gather.
But like many other small businesses, Gather turned to social media to weather the pandemic. This included posting positive social media presence and captions, detail-oriented pictures, and multiple posts a day.
Karen Vella, the owner of the boutique, used a shop local focus to promote her business and offer personalized curbside pick-up.
“Our social media hit an all-time high in the summer of 2020. Our business really picked up after shop local was advertised,” said Rogers.
On their Facebook page, Vella said they now offer shopping through their social media platforms. They also now provide delivery throughout the GTA.
They’re not alone. During the pandemic many businesses turned to both formal and informal ‘shop local’ initiatives.
Trisha Bower, owner of the Durham-based Eat My Shortbread company, took her own route.
“I look at the pandemic as a reboot to my company. My social media became my source of income, and my advertising platform,” she said. “Any publicity is good publicity.”
Bower not only used her social media presence as her own advertising, but she also joined new-to-her platforms such as TikTok, Snapchat, and even LinkedIn.
She said she is proud that all of her ingredients and packaging is Canadian-made, and she stresses the importance of shopping where you live.
“Supporting local can mean supporting national,” she said. “When you buy local, the ripple effect is tremendous. It comes back to support us.”
Local governments have also encouraged people to shop locally during the pandemic.
In January 2021, the Shop Durham Region Online Marketplace was created and launched for live shopping.
The online marketplace was led by the Downtown Whitby BIA and funded by Regional Economic Development. It’s a platform where local Durham Region businesses can post their products to allow people to ‘shop local’ in a single transaction.
The marketplace offers more than a thousand listings at any given time, and any Durham-based business can join the platform for free to post its products.
Additionally, the federal government invested $33 million through provincial chambers of commerce and boards of trades to assist small businesses during the pandemic in 2021, including $8.8 million in Ontario, according to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.