Pedestrians stroll along Spring Garden Road in Halifax on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. A new retail shopping event has arrived, encouraging consumers to support local, independent businesses during the holiday season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

‘Nightmare on Main Street:’ After a tough year, campaign urges consumers to buy local

‘Nightmare on Main Street:’ After a tough year, campaign urges consumers to buy local

A new retail event encouraged consumers to support small businesses on Saturday, reminding shoppers that the holiday season is a critical time for many neighbourhood mom-and-pop shops.

Small Business Saturday, wedged between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is the latest sales campaign aimed at holiday shoppers.

But unlike its larger retail counterparts, which tend to shine a spotlight on big box stores, Small Business Saturday suggested consumers support their local stores.

The initiative comes during the holiday shopping season, a make-or-break time of year for many independent businesses.

Christie Pinese, who owns the home decor and gift shop Rose City Goods, said on Instagram that she’s been floored by how many people have taken up the shop-small cause, particularly in Toronto, where non-essential stores can only offer curbside pickup and delivery.

“This little shop is beyond grateful for the love and support you’ve showed us this year. Seeing so many people sharing their gift guides and lists warms my heart,” she wrote. “I love the awareness it brings and I’ve discovered some great new businesses myself recently because of it!”

In Edmonton, meanwhile, the team at Shop Harrow wished everyone a happy Small Business Saturday.

“Our team at Shop Harrow want to say thank you to everyone for all the support over the last little while,” an Instagram post read. “We sure have some amazing customers!”

Laura Jones, executive vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said 2020 has been one of the toughest years ever for many small retailers.

“It’s been a nightmare on Main Street,” she said in an interview Saturday. “It’s been financially and emotionally very, very difficult for small business.”

Jones said the shopping event is intended to push consumers towards supporting small businesses by making purchases online, using curbside pick-up or taking advantage of in-person shopping where possible.

“We’re asking people to think about their choices and become a conscious consumer,” she said, adding that the idea is to encourage shoppers to think beyond the big chains and online giants.

“The survival of small businesses in your neighbourhood depends on your support.”

According to the CFIB’s latest data, only 38 per cent of retail businesses are reaching their usual sales levels. The organization said one in seven, or about 158,000 businesses across Canada, are at risk of permanent closure.

Jones said small businesses are the “backbone of the economy.” Data compiled by the CFIB and campaign sponsor American Express said small businesses employ nine out of 10 Canadians and often support local charities, schools and sports teams.

“The bottom line is the consumer has the power to make a difference here,” she said. “We’re not powerless in this pandemic. The choices we make every day will shape what Canada is going to look like tomorrow.”

During the pandemic, many small businesses have ramped up their online presence.

The CFIB said more than 150,000 small businesses in Canada have entered the e-commerce market since March. In all, about a third now offer online sales.

Retail analyst Bruce Winder said an event like Small Business Saturday is “incredibly relevant” this year.

“Most small retailers have been shut down or limited for several months now and they’re really struggling,” he said. “This is a good way to get the message out there that they need our support.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2020.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

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