By Amy Quarry
As we work our way through these unusually challenging times, I have been reflecting on community, small business, capitalism, struggle, and how it all fits together. I have been thinking especially about my business buddies here in Quesnel. It’s been a tough season for most of us this past year, for many complex reasons, and I just wanted to show them a little extra love and gratitude. My journey as a business owner has been supported every single step of the way by other entrepreneurs in this town—they were my first advertising clients, had grace as I made mistakes and grew my skills, supported the Small Town Love projects, and were always there to support me in talking through the challenges we all share owning businesses in a small town. We are all in this together, and I think Quesnel is incredibly lucky to have the wonderful people and businesses we have here.
I want to share a list I wrote in 2017 after the wildfires happened—15 Ways to Build Community in the Face of Chaos. I think it is just as relevant now, perhaps even more so, as I know many businesses and individuals are struggling to make it all work. There is always so much behind the scenes that we don’t see as customers, and it is hard for entrepreneurs to talk about the challenges without sounding negative, so most of us just don’t share about the hard stuff.
So… here are 15 ways we can help build community in the face of chaos.
- When shopping, choose local businesses or locally owned franchises over large chains or box stores whenever possible. Walmart will never go under, but your favourite small shop might. If you don’t see what you want, or the price you were hoping for—ask! You never know what they might be able to do for you.
- Take this opportunity to walk into a store that you have never been to, introduce yourself, and tell the store owner you appreciate them. Spend something. Even a small amount helps a small business.
- Think about all the gifts you are going to need for holidays, birthdays, and other occasions over the next three months. If you can afford to, go buy them now from a local business.
- You can help without spending money, too. Share posts about local businesses on social media and encourage family and friends to support local when they can. Let business owners know you are there for them.
- Do as much of your grocery shopping as you can at the farmers’ market and local grocery stores this month. You might assume prices are higher, but I think you will be surprised. And this month, if you can afford it, consider any small difference in price to be a donation to the greater good.
- Invite people into your home for a meal. Everyone needs a bit of extra support and community right now. Buy what you need for your dinner from independent stores or farmers.
- If you can afford it, order out one more meal than you normally would, and order it from a locally owned restaurant.
- If you have a business that is unaffected by the current economic challenges, look over your purchasing choices and see if there is anywhere you can localize your supply chain for the next few months. Who knows? You might realize you want to do that permanently!
- Were you planning to buy a vehicle in the next six months? Do it now, if possible, from a local dealership. It might not seem like the right time to purchase, but it absolutely is critical to them surviving this, and I would bet you will receive amazing service!
- Make a list of all the appointments you have been putting off—change the oil, get your hair cut, dry-cleaning, get your shoes repaired—and make those appointments as soon as you can
- Collaborate! Ask around at the office, and pool funds and resources to make purchases locally whenever possible. Someone’s birthday? Get a cake from a local bakery or flowers from a local florist. Also, if you are in charge of purchasing gifts or meals as a part of your job, choose local businesses for these purchases, too.
- Show emotional support to local business owners. In addition to facing intense business stress, many of them may also be facing all the personal challenges that come with keeping a business afloat. Ask what they need, ask what you can do. Be kind to the staff in these businesses, too—we all know that retail service is a tough job, and this season is especially intense.
- Volunteer! Ask your favourite local business if they can use a hand and see what you can do. Wash some windows, run some errands—I am sure they would appreciate the support!
- Spread the word! Many well-meaning people don’t know the potential impact their purchases can have at local businesses. Tell people about your favourite local shops and services and share your good experiences in reviews and social media posts.
- Put aside bias. If you have a negative belief or assumption about local businesses, put it aside for just this month and give them a chance to win your business or win it back. Many small businesses are the victim of a belief that bigger is better and that chains are always cheaper—this is simply not true. If you don’t see the item you need, ask them if they can order it in. Give them a chance to compete and show them your support. At the end of the day, we are all in this together.
Please share if you feel inspired. A rising tide lifts all boats, and it takes all of us to turn the tide.
Amy Quarry is an entrepreneur, community-builder, maker, graphic designer, and localist. She loves her small town and strongly believes in the resilience of a community built together. Long Table Grocery is a locally owned independent food hub providing good food that is sustainably sourced and locally rooted in the Cariboo region of BC.