In recent years, local businesses have been struggling as shoppers increasingly spend their dollars online or out of their communities. And when businesses struggle, the community struggles.
“Between the forest fires last year, COVID-19 and flooding this year, the Mackenzie Region has had a really rough time. Local businesses still need support—they need people shopping in their stores and buying their products. They can’t stay open and continue to provide services for our communities if people aren’t spending money here,” said Jessica Juneau, councillor for the Town of Rainbow Lake and REDI board member.
It is this need that has prompted REDI to begin a Shop Local campaign to highlight the benefits of spending money in the community.
“There are many benefits to buying local. Small, locally-based businesses make a vital contribution to communities—they account for the largest share of new jobs generated each year and provide some of the most stable employment opportunities,” said Greg McIvor of the Zama Chamber of Commerce.
Spending money locally has ripple effects people don’t often think about. Small business owners and their employees usually spend money locally, too, keeping cash flowing through the local economy. In addition, it is small businesses, not the international conglomerates online or in the city, who support the local non-profit organizations from which everyone benefits.
“It’s not uncommon for people to take a weekend trip down to Costco in Grande Prairie and fill up a trailer, but Costco doesn’t support your kids’ hockey team,” said Juneau.
Local businesses have a vested interest in making their customers happy and will often go the extra mile to provide excellent customer service or find that unique product a customer is looking for.
"It always goes back to a reciprocal relationship. If we can survive and thrive, we’re going to turn around and support local activities."
Co-owner of High Level's I.D.A. and Fort Vermilion's Pioneer Pharmasave
“Mom and pop shops are the backbone of every community as they have closer relationships with their customers, so they are best able to meet their customers’ personal needs,” said REDI board member Larry Neufeld of the La Crête Chamber of Commerce.
Cheryll Welke co-owns I.D.A. in High Level and Pioneer Pharmasave in Fort Vermilion with her husband, Jan Welke, and is also a member of the High Level Chamber of Commerce and the REDI board. She is still finding new products and services available in the region.
“I didn’t realize we had so many home-based businesses here. I was recently looking for seed potatoes because all the stores were sold out. I was told there was a ‘potato guy’ in Fort Vermilion. That ‘potato guy’ is actually Peace Growers, a huge potato-growing facility that supplies grocery stores around the region. There are plenty of other examples, even people who have hobby businesses. I don’t need to go to Grande Prairie—I can stay right here to get what I need,” said Welke.
Welke knows first-hand how important the relationship is between local vendors and consumers. She actively seeks out local Indigenous artisans to feature in her stores, and she and her husband do everything they can to help their clientele, who primarily live in local Indigenous communities.
“Lockdown was lifted on the Indigenous communities, but now they’re in lockdown again. So, we’re being mindful and respectful of what they’re experiencing,” said Welke.
The Welkes already had an established pharmacy run out to local communities before lockdown. Now they’ll take groceries when they can, too.
“It always goes back to a reciprocal relationship. If we can survive and thrive, we’re going to turn around and support local activities. When people come in and ask for donations, it’s hard to give those if they’re not shopping local,” said Welke.
“A lot of community events in Rainbow Lake depend on the donations of our local businesses, such as our golf tournaments, kids programs like youth centres and nursery schools and the hockey teams. Those things have been hit really hard because we’re not seeing as much donated,” said Juneau.
The last two years have presented many challenges to everyone, but this is especially true in the Mackenzie Region. Supporting local businesses is arguably the best way consumers can help the region move forward for the benefit of all. When residents help local businesses, they are helping themselves.
Liked this article? Share it with your friends on social media: