How to support local while #SocialDistancing

By Michelle Ferguson March 26, 2020

To keep his independent bookstore afloat during the COVID-19 outbreak, Matthew Stepanic and his business partner Jason Purcell began offering complimentary delivery to customers in Edmonton and the surrounding area, as they temporarily closed their physical location in City Centre Mall downtown and moved the bookshop entirely online.

Edmonton Made is a program and a platform that enhances the exposure of locally based businesses. During this difficult time, we will continue to support local business by telling stories, like the one below, and encouraging Edmontonians to shop the online version of Gifted, our annual gift catalogue.  

The doors may be shut and the lights off, but Matthew Stepanic, co-owner of Glass Bookshop, is as busy as ever.

To keep his independent bookstore afloat during the COVID-19 outbreak, Stepanic and his business partner Jason Purcell began offering complimentary delivery to customers in Edmonton and the surrounding area, as they temporarily closed their physical location in City Centre Mall downtown and moved the bookshop entirely online.  

“To encourage folks to social distance and self-isolate, we thought it would be a good idea to offer free shipping to those who still wanted a book while they were doing so,” Matthew says.  

On March 5, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Alberta. The spread of the respiratory illness across the country prompted a nation-wide call for social distancing.  

This has had a major impact on businesses, especially independently owned restaurants, retailers and service businesses, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.  

On March 24, CFIB released the results of a survey it conducted to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on small business. The online survey, which was filled out by more than 11,000 businesses from across the country, showed that 60 per cent of Canadian SMEs have experienced a significant drop in sales.  

To encourage folks to social distance and self-isolate, we thought it would be a good idea to offer free shipping to those who still wanted a book while they were doing so

Matthew Stepanic, co-owner of Glass Bookshop

More than a third of affected businesses indicated a reduction in revenues greater than 75 per cent, and 30 per cent indicated that they would survive less than a month under the current conditions.

These effects are starting to be felt in Edmonton, says Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association (DBA). 

“We’re seeing a very quiet downtown. Anybody that depends on walk in — it’s basically non-existent,” he says. “Most restaurants and retail are shut or shutting down. Hotels are empty; we’re hearing five per cent occupancy.” 

(Note: On March 27, the provincial government announced the mandatory closure of all non-essential retailers and services to the public. Restaurants can continue to provide take-out, delivery and drive-through services, but dine-in is prohibited. Non-essential retailers may continue to offer online shopping and curb-side pick-up only.)

Amid the outbreak, Edmonton’s business associations are focusing their efforts on supporting local companies by listing resources and information, supporting new ways to connect with businesses, and putting out the word about how to connect with your favourites while social distancing.  

The lack of foot traffic and forced closures has spurred a number of innovative business ideas says Cherie Klassen, executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association.  

“I’m quite impressed by it all actually,” she says. “I’m proud of our businesses, and all the businesses in Edmonton, that are quickly adapting [to this new normal].” 

Resources for businesses looking to pivot

Are you offering/want to offer pickup or delivery?  

Do you need to set up an ecommerce site? 

In addition to Matthew fulfilling online orders with his corgi Bob (who suffers from separation anxiety and is loving all the extra attention), we’ve seen a number of simple yet creative business model alternatives:  

While all levels of government have announced measures to reduce the stress on employers and employees, the current situation highlights just how important it is to support local, independent businesses. 

“It doesn’t do us much good to start purchasing things on Amazon,” says Ian. “That money leaves the city and we need to keep money in Edmonton. We need to keep cash flowing through different businesses.” 

Studies have shown that for every $100 spent at a local business about $65 goes back to the local economy, through hiring local suppliers and partnering with other local firms.  

Both Ian and Cherie are encouraging Edmontonians to do what they can to support their favourite local businesses.  

“Not everyone can support businesses with their dollars right now,” Cherie says. “And many of our businesses recognize that.” 

If you can’t purchase a gift card to use later or order online or by phone today, they ask that you promote businesses through social media and provide words of encouragement during this difficult time.  

Looking for a fun way to support local? Try local blogger Linda Hoang’s Spin the Wheel of Local. It features over 100 different business!

Wondering what's still open? Be sure to check out this website put together by local digital marketing firm Lift Interactive.

Note: Since the time of publication, the Glass Bookshop has made the difficult decision not to renew its lease at Edmonton City Centre. The bookstore is still operating online sales.

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