Online directories appear in bid to boost small business sales amid COVID-19

TORONTO — When Ali Haberstroh brought home a full-length shearling coat she recently found at a vintage store, the Toronto woman couldn’t help but seethe about it.

TORONTO — When Ali Haberstroh brought home a full-length shearling coat she recently found at a vintage store, the Toronto woman couldn’t help but seethe about it.

“This is the most fabulous item I have ever bought for myself and if it had been anywhere else it would have cost a bazillion dollars,” she said of buying $38 made at Expo Vintage.

Haberstroh wanted to help her friends find great products and also support small businesses, so in her spare time, she created a shareable Google Docs list of independent and local businesses on

Within hours, it spread like wildfire on social media, inspired friends to create versions from Halifax, Calgary and Vancouver, and prompted local tech genius Baker Baha to offer his help. to turn them into a real website.

Haberstroh had plenty of company. Directories, Google Docs listings and social media accounts teeming with links to small businesses in need of help have sprung up in most major cities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although they are meant as a small gesture to help in a difficult time, some believe they can have a big impact.

“I’ve seen a lot of people say, ‘I just bought three items from two stores’ on the list,” Haberstroh said.

“There’s now a push to put everything into small businesses and it feels like more than ever it’s in the hands of the city to keep them alive…given what they’ve been through this year.”

A poll conducted in August by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business showed that 82% of Canadians are worried that their favorite local businesses will close.

This possibility is very real. The CFIB has estimated that 225,000 businesses across the country could close permanently due to COVID-19. Even those who survive could pay off their debts for years, the organization warned.

Christie Pinese isn’t sure how her store Rose City Goods made Haberstroh’s list, but she’s grateful because she’s noticed people shop mostly in their neighborhood or places they can get to without transportation. public transit or long car journeys.

An appearance on a list can expand that radius or help someone nearby find it.

“The more people know about the store, the better,” she said.

She has spent much of the pandemic relying on online sales, but worries about how independent retailers can compete with big-box stores that have been allowed to stay open in Toronto and the surrounding area. Peel. while smaller vendors that don’t stock essentials have to close.

“If we don’t support small business, when this is all over, we’ll just be left with Walmart and Costco and I don’t think anyone wants that,” Pinese said.

Amy Robinson has similar worries.

She started the BC Small Business Support Group and LoCo Directory about 10 years ago and it’s now seeing renewed interest amid COVID-19.

Robinson is seeing more and more people decide to shop entirely locally over the holidays or seek independent store recommendations from friends online.

According to an Ipsos poll commissioned by Google this summer, 66% of Canadian consumers will buy more from local small businesses during the holiday season.

“It’s interesting because our message has always been that you have to buy from local businesses, so they survive, and now I feel like people really understand,” Robinson said.

This change was sparked by people seeing a physical manifestation of how our lives and the economy are changing when they walk along their main street and notice one store after another closing, said Joanne McNeish , professor of marking at Ryerson University.

While people used to disassociate businesses from warm fuzzy feelings, the essential work they do has made us more nostalgic and emotional when we think of their demise, she said.

“It’s almost like losing a good friend that you always thought would be there, until it wasn’t.”

The pandemic has also made the additional challenges some groups face more glaring and difficult to ignore.

Small business owners, for example, didn’t have the money or resources to quickly roll out the marketing campaigns, fancy websites or delivery deals that big-box stores were offering when COVID-19 hit. .

Entrepreneurs who are women, Indigenous, racialized, or have a disability struggled even more due to chronic underfunding, less mentorship, and more child-rearing responsibilities .

“People with disabilities often have to be creative or create employment opportunities for themselves because they haven’t necessarily had the same opportunities as the general public,” said Mayaan Ziv, the Toronto creator of a Google Doc sharing international small businesses run by people with disabilities.

“People don’t think about that part of the population often enough.”

While people are now eager to use lists and help small businesses like the ones Ziv highlighted, it’s hard to predict whether the trend will survive COVID, McNeish said.

While some may return to frequenting big-box stores if they’re the cheapest or most convenient option, McNeish said if people are now developing small business habits “then maybe those habits will remain”.

“But we won’t know for two years.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 2. 8, 2020.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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