In these times of COVID-19, we are all doing our part to shop local. There are businesses in our community that we value and that we want to see thrive, despite the challenges we must accept to keep each other healthy. We see messages on social media, posters on shop windows, and general sentiment everywhere to #ShopLocal and #SupportLocal. What we don’t see is the dedicated effort of the individuals and organizations working behind the scenes to ensure that these messages resonate with us. These local crusaders don’t often boast of their accomplishments, preferring instead the quiet satisfaction of watching unfold the fruits of their collective labour…
Well, if they’re not going to toot their own horn, then we’ll do it for them! In this post, we’re shining a spotlight on our local Business Improvement Associations.
The Orangeville BIA in action
Take a stroll down the charming streets of Orangeville’s historic downtown and you will find quaint shops, unique restaurants and other local businesses. Perhaps you’ve come for a day of shopping, or perhaps you’ve come for an event or festival. Either way, it is likely that you won’t see the ways in which the businesses of Historic Downtown Orangeville are working with the Orangeville BIA year-round on campaigns and projects to make their shoppers’ visit a truly wonderful experience. Have you ever been to Orangeville’s annual holiday tree lighting ceremony, for example? Or have you enjoyed its Starlight Shopping event in November and December? The Orangeville BIA, among other organizations, is instrumental in bringing these and many more events about.
Naturally, when COVID-19 reached our region, the Orangeville BIA’s priority was to help its businesses in any way it could. The majority of staff’s time was spent helping their members reorient themselves and, where possible, shift to an online model. They even offered members time with their own social media marketing agency at no charge. “Several of our businesses took advantage of that opportunity,” recalls Alison Scheel, General Manager for the Orangeville BIA. “It helped them professionalize their online presence quite a bit.”
The Orangeville BIA has also been busy creating its Shop Downtown Orangeville Shopify marketplace. This initiative, launched in response to COVID-19, has taken significant energy and effort by staff and businesses alike, but it is one that has helped an increasing amount of online traffic—especially now that the holidays are in full swing. “We invited all of our downtown businesses to open up their own little online store in our marketplace,” Alison explains. “They could participate for free, and just had to set themselves up.”
Business during COVID-19: Fromage Orangeville
It is truly a team effort to ensure that businesses can weather these difficult times. Between the businesses, the BIAs and, in many cases the towns and municipalities, encouraging visitors to shop and support local requires a great amount of coordination and creativity by everyone involved.
Christine Patton is the owner of Fromage Fine Cheeses and Gourmet Food on Orangeville’s main downtown strip. When times are good and tourism is in full swing, her store and bistro are bustling with patrons. Thanks to her knowledge of gourmet foods and unparalleled customer service, guests regularly come back to her store time and again for a unique shopping experience.
When COVID-19 arrived, Fromage was as impacted as any other store, but Christine has managed to be remarkably creative and flexible under difficult circumstances to keep her enterprise healthy. She is one of the Orangeville businesses that was successful in shifting its model to meet the changing needs of her clients. “The shift is subtle,” she says. “People are doing a lot more gift baskets because they can’t travel. There are also less orders for appetizers and catering with people not able to gather. Instead, sales are up in packaged goods, cheeses and comfort foods. A new trend I’m seeing is that people are asking me to curate a charcuterie board or basket for a specific bottle of wine.”
While Christine has unfortunately had to suspend her bistro operation, and some of her regulars have shied away from coming, many others are coming out for the first time to support their community. To build on this success, Fromage has actively participated in many of the initiatives that the Orangeville BIA has arranged. One such example is that, for the holiday season, individual musicians play live music in the window of one of Orangeville’s stores (Aardvark Music and Culture). This music is piped out onto the street for shoppers to enjoy, and Fromage and a number of other businesses have committed to remaining open to 7 p.m. on Fridays to support the effort. “The downtown is beautifully lit up, the music is playing in the centre of downtown, and the retailers are open to support the shopping initiative,” Christine says. “I feel good about what [the BIA is] doing and the programs they’ve put into place.”
It is encouraging to see that business is beginning to pick up from its lowest point when COVID-19 first became a reality. Christine and her fellow retailers are starting to see momentum from their collective efforts with the Orangeville BIA, with more and more people coming in to shop local from the bricks-and-mortar stores in their own community, rather than relying on major online retailers. This is the most important message they—and we—want everyone to remember as we navigate COVID-19 and alter our shopping patterns. When we make it through to the other side, the choices we make today will determine what kind of community we have waiting for us tomorrow.
From all of us at York Durham Headwaters, we’d like to give a huge Thank You to all of our BIAs in our region for everything they do! You can thank them too by getting out to #ShopLocal this holiday season!
Story by Katherine Ryalen