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Alberta businesses aim to survive pandemic by innovating, working together

CALGARY (CityNews) – It’s hardly a secret that the pandemic has hit Canadians hard, especially their bank accounts.

For small business owners trying to run brick-and-mortar stores, it can be a challenge to stay afloat when everyone is being told to stay home.

“Materials have gone up, supply costs have gone up, and it’s just not affordable anymore to run a small business in some instances,” said Jacyln Daw, who co-owns Collab at Southcentre Mall in Calgary with her husband.

“We have seen some really amazing brands have to close down their shop as well as some local stores that have shut down. They just can’t keep staff.”

At Collab, Daw features products from local vendors, and actively promotes the ‘Shop Local’ movement, and small business community, in Alberta.

A stack of patches at Collab in Southcentre Mall that read 'Support Local Alberta businesses".
A stack of patches at Collab in Southcentre Mall. (Credit: Kevin Sabiston/CityNews)

With the pandemic presenting new challenges, Daw has been encouraged by seeing ideas shared through the network of local owners.

“A lot of people are getting really innovative which is really nice, so lots of online markets, a lot of subscription boxes, a lot of ways to bring product to the customer.”

As the world has moved online in the past year, Collab, like many stores, has adapted with a website and curbside pick-up options.

But the adaptations forced on society by COVID-19 have also presented the opportunity for a different type of local business.

Dustin Miller laughs when asked if the start of SokoLocal was similar to the old stereotype of a few friends in a garage creating a tech endeavour.

It may not have been too far off for the group of skilled developers, who wanted to put their idle hands to good use during the pandemic.

“It set things back for a lot of people, including our business,” said Miller. “We had a bit of a slowdown in the service work that we did.

“We wanted to take that time and invest it in local and try to find a way to take our skills and services and build something that was valuable for local businesses.”

The goal behind SokoLocal is to provide local shopping options for Albertans, even if they’re browsing from home.

Local businesses in Calgary, Edmonton, Banff and Canmore can register their website for the search engine, as well as pursue marketing assistance and other business services with the group.

A decal in a store window encouraging shoppers to buy local.
A decal in a store window encouraging shoppers to buy local. (Credit: Kevin Sabiston/CityNews)

Miller hopes that through their own local operation, which they want to see expand across the province, they can help strengthen Alberta’s small business community.

“We’re a small business too, and part of this is it takes a village to make everything work.”

It’s a sentiment that Daw agrees with.

“You want to make sure that you’re supporting each other, you don’t want to see anyone fail,” she said. “It’s not a good feeling.”

While the pandemic is far from over in Alberta, the local business community is working together to stay strong through tough times.