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More than 6,200 businesses closed. We need to support local

My former student, communications pro and now entrepreneur Jen Christie opened what some describe as a hipster pizzeria, called Bonfire on Queen, a few months ago with her partner in Paisley.

What a challenging time to commit to food service, when so many are on the ropes.

But if you check them out on social media, you’ll see their community is rallying around them.

As well, Bonfire is starting to be a destination for aggies, non-metro Ontarians and day trippers from afar. A dozen Google reviews gives them a 4.9 out of five rating. Very encouraging.

Their success, and that of many other entrepreneurs who are boldly sticking their necks out to provide such services, hinges on their endurance and commitment, among other factors.

Says entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson: “A business has to be involving, it has to be fun and it has to exercise your creative instincts.”

And it also has to be supported by customers. They and others like them need our support.

By “our,” I mean Ontarians supporting other Ontarians.

People from cities with the ways and means to escape from their closed-in surroundings by taking a drive to the country.

People from the country visiting other villages and towns, for a break.

And of course people from villages and towns supporting their own local businesses… because when the weather deteriorates and winter events that usually attract out-of-towners are cancelled because of the pandemic, it will be local people who make the difference, and local suppliers who fulfill their needs.

A new report from the Rural Ontario Institute says in April, there were almost 42,000 active businesses outside of metro Ontario. That’s 12 per cent lower than in January. Nearly 250 per cent more business – about 6,200 – closed in that same period than normal, either temporarily or for good. About 20 per cent fewer businesses opened than normal.

In Ontario, the sectors with the largest declines were accommodation and food. Some people, like Jen Christie, are bucking the trend.

Farmers too are counting on local suppliers. Carlie Melara, print and digital advertising manager for the fruit and vegetable news source The Grower, issued a message to her industry earlier this week saying growers are counting on their suppliers like never before.

She was focusing on hidden services that we as consumers seldom consider – storage and containers, for example.

But given that local food, depending on the commodity, needs to be stored after it’s harvested, then it needs to be packaged for distribution and retail, local suppliers are vital. Without them supplying these services, growers have their backs against the wall.

The same goes for any service that’s vital for business operations.

We know that local food is a key driver for consumers (so is price). But could that fact be even further exploited to help local businesses succeed during these trying times? If someone visits from outside the area, odds are their trip has been driven by a desire to sample that area’s local food and beverages.

You’ve likely seen “local” taken to extremes. For example, “local” coffee. It comes from thousands of kilometres away. But it’s roasted locally, by local people, for local tastes. It supports the community. As well, if it’s sourced from identifiable harvesters in coffee-producing regions, it could well be supporting community members there. 

So let’s give local entrepreneurs our support as we head into one of Ontario’s most gorgeous travel periods. We’re a province rich in experiences, and those who help provide them need our support.

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