In January 2019, as a response to a slew of media stories about businesses closing in downtown Fredericton, I wrote about how it’s normal to lose few businesses during that time period. I talked about how it was normal to have turnover, how new businesses had already popped up to fill vacant spaces and about how there were multiple new office buildings being constructed downtown. I also wrote about some of the particular challenges from 2018 that were contributing factors – massive spring flooding, an uptick in road and construction work, as well as increased costs from all levels of government.
Given what has happened this year, January 2021… is likely to see a higher than typical number of business closures without intentional, widespread support from the community for our local businesses. The pandemic has worn down local business owners – financially and personally – and we need to be there to pick them up. Restaurants and retail are typically slowest in winter, particularly in the New Year. Many have experienced their worst year ever before entering this critical time period. There are two choices: Buy Local or Say Goodbye to Local.
We are entering the most important (and final) week of pre-holiday shopping and I suspect that many of you – like me – are not done your shopping yet. Or if you are, and have been fortunate enough to maintain your income through the pandemic, perhaps you’ll consider giving another gift or two – maybe even to yourself. If there was ever a year to be extra generous – this is it.
But even our most aggressive gift-giving this month won’t be enough. We need to keep this attitude of supporting local all year round. Supporting local businesses has a positive impact on our community and they have never needed our support more.
Local businesses are invested in our community – literally. Some of the positive impact that local businesses are conspicuous and well understood – they are sponsoring your kids’ sports teams, donating to worthy projects and employing your friends and neighbours. But have you thought much about their contribution to public services more broadly? Every dollar governments have to spend on services originates from business. The tax dollars they generate help pay for our roads, hospitals and schools. They pay our public servants like nurses, teachers and social workers.
Local businesses are also just…better. They offer expertise and more personalized service than online options. More of the money spent at a local business stays in the community. Local business will go above and beyond to make your purchase as convenient as possible. They are also an important part of making up our community’s identity and creating ties between generations.
To support our small businesses, many individuals and community groups have come together on local initiatives across the province such as the #SupportFredLocal Partnership here in the capital. The City of Fredericton, Ignite Fredericton, the chamber and others have taken a more proactive approach to facilitating and encouraging citizens to shop and support businesses locally.
There are times when it might seem easier to order something from a big online retailer and that’s why we have to be intentional about our efforts. We must resist trading short-term convenience for long-term community sustainability and quality of life – it’s worth it. Small businesses are the fabric of our communities – socially and economically. You might start your day at the local coffee shop on your way to work at a downtown office. At lunchtime maybe you pop into the barber for a quick haircut and grab a sandwich from the bistro. After you pick up the kids from daycare started from scratch in your neighbourhood that has grown to three locations, you head to the bowling alley before picking up supper from the grocer close to your house. A day made possible by small business.
But the impact of supporting local goes well beyond our day-to-day activities – let us not forget that providing healthcare, education or any other social programs are intimately related to the success of business. A thriving economy allows us to collectively pay for the things that make up the fabric of life – successful businesses provide jobs and provide governments with the revenue that are redistributed for the benefit of all. 2020 may have been the Year of COVID, but we can make 2021 the Year of Local.
Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited organization with more than 1,000 members, is an active business organization engaged in policy development and advocacy that affects the competitiveness of our members and the Canadian business environment. The Chamber’s vision is ‘Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity’