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By Kieran Buggy

The main street economy is a term we use to describe the heart of any vibrant community: locally owned businesses. The reason we need them is simple: for every $1.00 spent at a local business, $0.48 gets recirculated (compared to $0.14 at chain stores). The recirculation of money creates a multiplier effect as these businesses pay local suppliers, leases and employees.

Imagine walking through your favourite main street Cook Street Village, Beacon Avenue, Esquimalt Road, etc. You walk past vacant storefronts, some graffiti-covered plywood, only to find your favourite local spot also closed. This “Broken Window Effect” creates a downward spiral that is difficult to reverse.

The COVID-19 shutdown does severely restrict our ability to support local enterprises, but there are some things you can do right away to have an impact and play a role in helping our economy remain resilient. If we all collectively do some, or all, of these things, together we will make a significant impact.

The first might be inconvenient: end your reliance on Amazon for home deliveries. The money spent there is gone from our local economy forever. Of course it’s convenient, but our community needs your action now.

Here are 9 more actions that you can take:

  • Consider pre-purchasing personal services like haircuts, nail appointments, massages, etc., or buy gift cards  from hubs like SupportLocalyyj to support businesses now and enjoy shopping later. But remember to not redeem gift cards right away once the economy opens back up. Let businesses get back on their feet with real cash and redeem these hidden treasures later.
  • Continue to support and pay your service providers (particularly self-employed), like cleaners, dog walkers, or childcare providers and tutors—even if they’re not working for you right now. Consider it a bonus for reliable services later or a tip for their loyalty.
  • Frequently order coffee, lunch or dinner from local food establishments. It’s a great time to try new places! Please tip generously too if you can. You’re likely saving money on a number of things by being stuck at home, so you can feel good about passing it forward to someone at risk by continuing to work and fulfill the increased demand to deliver you a service.  Also, order direct and pick-up yourself if you can, because it helps restaurants save on delivery service fees.
  • Support your local farmers and producers. Food security is more important now than ever, but farms have low profit margins and need to stay in business. Fortunately, some of the local farmers markets have pivoted to digital platforms (Moss Street Farmers Market, 10 Acres Market). Check the website of your local markets for services, or you can buy direct from farm stands, visit local grocers (Country Grocer, Michell’s Farm), or purchase pre-made produce boxes (SPUD, Good Food Box, Saanich Organics).
  • Pay your membership fees (gyms, yoga studios, and recreation centres). While some have likely shut their doors and potentially pivoted to online training or videos, your membership fees will be a considerable help to enabling them to reopen beyond the lockdowns. Call them to see what you can negotiate in terms of one on one coaching or equipment rental for at-home workouts.
  • Support the arts.  It may not always be an industry that is front of mind, but it too has been dramatically impacted by this pandemic and public support is vital for its resurgence.  When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied “Then what are we fighting for? A world without creativity and entertainment is bleak. So for now, consider buying some local art or supporting some local artists, and as we return to social normality try to attend as many local arts events as possible, whether it’s music, local theatre, art galleries, dance etc.

  • Create some fun challenges with friends incorporating prizes related to local businesses.  For example, try weekly fitness challenges (each person contributes $5) and the winner gets the prize purse, but in the form of a gift card for a local business.  Another idea is for each friend to purchase a $20 gift card for a restaurant and contribute to the group, then the cards are drawn from a hat (fun to incorporate on a zoom social) and each member of the group then gets to enjoy a meal from a potentially new restaurant.

  • If you are lucky enough to be able DONATE, DONATE, DONATE!
    • To a local charity—they are stretched thin with supplies, funds and personnel and yet the demand for their assistance has significantly grown.
    • To a local hospital or agency that supports frontline workers—they are literally the ones saving lives right now. 
    • To the humane society—pets can often be negatively affected in times of financial struggles
    • To local organizations like Victoria Foundation’s Rapid Relief Fund, which provides community support.
  • If you have a little surplus cash and you’re watching the stock market looking for opportunities, consider community investment programs that support and grow your local businesses and projects.  Community Microlending and the Vancouver Island Community Investment Cooperative (VICIC) both offer fantastic opportunities for  investing in and strengthening our local economy.

    Bonus round for the real community-oriented! Volunteering is a fantastic way to use your extra time.
  • We all need to be vigilant with adhering to social distancing protocols, but there are many ways to volunteer and help others. For example, I’ve been assisting the Victoria chapter of BC Covid-19 3D Printers to courier PPE from the local community members working tirelessly from their own homes to make equipment for the people who need it most—frontline workers).
    • You could deliver groceries to the elderly or mobility impaired.
    • If you’re tech savvy you could help local retailers with setting up e-commerce platforms through this coordinated group YYJ Locals For Locals
    • Keep an eye out for opportunities to help local farmers. They are significantly understaffed due to restrictions on foreign workers and our food and beverage supplies may suffer.

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