What do your local newspaper, your local sports team and your local theatre club have in common?
It’s not the beginning of a riddle or the start of a joke.
Quite the opposite.
The answer is the support of local businesses.
COVID-19 has seriously disrupted the way most of us eat, shop, work and play. But, despite the challenges of the world around us, Prince Albert’s small and medium-sized businesses have continued to serve their customers and give back any way they can.
When you attend a sporting event or see an ad for a local show or a fundraising campaign, keep an eye on the presenting sponsors.
Most of them are small and medium-sized businesses. All of them are locally-owned or operated, and all of them believe in giving back to their community.
Just last week, a local tattoo shop ran a fundraiser benefitting the YWCA. Others have contributed to the Rose Garden Hospice, or the E.A. Rawlinson Centre, or the Victoria Hospital Foundation.
Others support programs that feed hungry kids in schools, or provide something to do to keep kids engaged and out of trouble, like the supporters of Firebird North Sistema have done.
It’s not just in Prince Albert.
Across the province, and indeed, across the country, it’s the local business owners that have been giving back.
But have we been supporting them?
Far too often, the answer is no.
While 83 per cent of Saskatchewan businesses are fully open again, only 32 per cent are making normal sales.
The number is concerning to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which says that small businesses in the province are facing one of their biggest crises in decades.
“Small Business Week is typically an opportunity to celebrate the local businesses that make our communities great: the barbershop that always gets your hair just right, the independent grocer that sponsors your kid’s hockey team, and the print shop down the street that gave you your first job,” said Laura Jones, Executive Vice-President at CFIB.
“This year, the stakes are much higher—small businesses have been pummelled by months of closures and restrictions, many have had to lay off valued staff, and sales remain dangerously low. They need our support now more than ever.”
The CFIB says many businesses rely on the holiday season to end the year in the black, but more than half are concerned that lower spending will continue after the COVID-19 crisis.
“CFIB encourages Canadians to support their independent businesses during Small Business Week and in the months to come by choosing to shop local whenever possible.”
In this era of physical distancing and health and safety precautions, that’s still possible.
Some local businesses have taken more of their products online, while others have physical distancing markers on the floor, increased cleaning and hand sanitizers.
While there have been outbreaks of COVID-19 in this province, none have been tied back to small businesses. The risk as long as guidelines are followed, remains low.
That doesn’t mean we can let our guard down, but it does mean that we can continue to support the community that supports us during this crisis.
In fact, it may be more important than ever to spend our dollars inside our community, instead of places where that money flows out of the city, province or even country.
Malcolm Jenkins of Canadian Tire said it best last week when talking about the latest donation to the Hospice, a partnership between him and two other local business owners, Ed Zaparniuk and Cheryl Sander of Tim Hortons:
“There are companies in this town that don’t do much very much. Big companies — you don’t see a lot of money coming back into the community. You see Brinks trucks rolling out of town full of cash, but you don’t see people reinvesting in the community where we live.”
The spinoffs are enormous. Not only do well-supported businesses give back by sponsoring sports teams and arts groups and local fundraisers, but they also keep local people employed — for good wages too. They pay taxes and support other local suppliers —meaning that dollar you spend locally is spent again and again in town, building our own local economy,
Besides, when was the last time you saw a local sports team sponsored by Google? or Amazon? Or eBay? Or Facebook?
You don’t. If we lose our local businesses, we lose what makes Prince Albert special.
But they can only survive if we give them our support.
Look around at the advertisers on these pages. Or in the program at a local concert. Or on the ice at the Art Hauser Centre. That’s who gives back and makes our way of life possible.
It’s time we returned the favour.
*This article was printed in the Small Business Week feature in the October 22, 2020 edition of Rural Roots.