Calling Glebe consumers

The Glebe Emporium, one of the Bank Street businesses that closed their doors in recent years in the face of competing online giants   Photo: Lucas Zylstra

 – our irreplaceable indie businesses need you

By Lucas Zylstra

Callum Zylstra, a Grade 12 student and former part-time employee of a now-shuttered small business in the Glebe, saw firsthand the effects that massive corporations are having on stores in our community.

“With online shopping, same day deliveries and prime days, big-box corporations have made it the easiest thing in the world to mindlessly and carelessly purchase their products,” he says, “and it’s only making it that much more difficult for small local businesses to survive.”

“It’s definitely worth it to walk a few blocks and go the extra mile to support a small business. Not only that, but you feel better knowing you’ve done the right thing by supporting our local economy and getting out and doing something, rather than just sitting on your couch, buying something and waiting for it to show up at your door.”

Trying to do business during a global pandemic and competing with big-box chain stores and online shopping is a never-ending slog for local entrepreneurs. Finding a way to survive, let alone thrive, over this past year has been mentally and financially exhausting for local small businesses.

As a part-time employee at Mrs.Tiggy Winkle’s toy store when it closed last spring, Callum saw firsthand the devastation that shutting down a long-time local institution brings to employees and customers alike. Mrs.Tiggy Winkle’s, a family-owned business that operated on Bank Street for 43 years, was forced to close down because modern-day consumers would rather save a couple bucks than support a shop that was a neighbourhood staple for generations!

Tragically, the story of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle’s is not unique. The pandemic and changing consumer habits has forced other prominent independent Glebe businesses to shutter their doors in recent years: The Glebe Emporium, Buckland’s, Fratelli, The Pomeroy House, Pure Gelato, Cats R Us, The Soup Guy, BGGO Clothing and others have all fallen victim. Statistics Canada reported that last June alone, a staggering 56,296 Canadian businesses closed.

With $48 billion in annual revenue last year and a valuation of over $250 billion, Amazon is a Goliath-like corporation, steamrolling the hopes and dreams of small-business owners. Not only that, small businesses have been forced to close, reopen and close again as lockdowns come and go, have been restricted to online ordering and curbside pickup and had to negotiate ever-changing, colour-coded restrictions. It is ever more apparent that the small businesses that have managed to remain open truly need your support!

With countless chain stores and restaurants starting to invade Bank Street in the last couple years, including McDonalds, Popeye’s, Boston Pizza and Pizza Hut to name just a few, the corporatization of the Glebe is becoming more apparent every day.

Ian Boyd, the long-time owner of Compact Music, says that despite the difficulties facing local businesses, he has appreciated help from the Trudeau government and its various COVID-19 support programs. Still, he fears the impact of changing consumer habits and pandemic lockdowns. “I am just praying to God that they do not shut down the stores again,” he says. “You’re going to see people throw in the towel because it’s really, really hard.”

Small businesses are not only important to the local economy, they also act as a community space. They are a place to foster connections and build relationships with neighbours and shopkeepers alike. Small independent businesses have been an essential part of our community for decades and are an integral part of the Glebe’s identity. It comes down to community versus convenience. If we as consumers don’t make a dramatic shift in the way we shop, the only stores around us will be chains and big-box outlets that just don’t feel like home at all. Think about that the next time you halfheartedly click away for your next Amazon delivery.

Lucas Zylstra is a proud Glebe resident, brother of Callum, and Grade 10 Literary Arts student at Canterbury High School.

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