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Keep your cash in the Sault and share the wealth

Buying local key to helping area businesses recover from pandemic, says Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce

As any business owner knows, the local chamber of commerce is a much-needed support, even during the best of times.

Throw in a pandemic and that organization becomes nothing short of a lifeline.

The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce works not only for local businesses, but for the economic well-being of the entire community, says CEO Rory Ring. They are membership-based, the voice of business, dedicated to advancing economic prosperity for all.

The Shop Local campaign, which recently launched, runs until Valentine’s Day 2022. It’s part of the larger Love Local program, which has branches that include Listen Local, Dine Local and Play Local. The message will be delivered through a combination of print, radio, TV, billboard, social media and transit display marketing—all in the hopes of catching peoples’ attention and reminding them to put a bit of thought into where they shop.

“It’s so important to keep your dollars local,” says Ring. “It’s not just about supporting your local businesses and the local economy, but also what they mean for creating a community.” 

Local business owners live in the same community and they do their own shopping close to home. They employ residents—in fact small businesses create 70-80% of all job opportunities in the area. They are more likely to carry products that were made nearby and they’re usually the first to donate to community organizations, festivals, events and charitable causes, and to sponsor local youth teams. Studies have shown that local businesses donate to community causes at more than twice the rate of chain stores.

For every $100 you spend at a locally owned business, statistics tell us that $68 from that transaction is recirculated within the community. When you spend that same $100 at a chain store, that number drops to $43. You’re also helping the environment, as buying close to home conserves energy and resources in the form of less fuel for transportation and less packaging.

Thankfully we’re starting to see a little more activity in the marketplace. “Over the last 18-20 months it has been a significant struggle for all businesses because it really has become a new paradigm with the protocols in place, the supply chain issues and really just trying to stay afloat. Many of our small businesses are just in survival mode,” he says.

The vaccination passport brings issues of its own, as it’s challenging for some small businesses in high-risk environments to manage. The chamber always makes sure to spread the message that everyone needs to be courteous to and respectful of businesses and the people that work within them.

To date, the community has done a very good job supporting local businesses. There has been a rapid increase in online shopping of course, but many businesses have pivoted to provide their own online retail experience. Restaurants moved to offering service on patios, takeout and curbside, adapting as quickly as they could.

Many have survived, some have not. “We’ve been fairly fortunate here locally that our business losses have not been substantial, though there have been some. We’ve done a pretty good job of supporting our community,” says Ring.

“A lot of our dollars are staying local now where they would have normally travelled across into Michigan, so that has also been a benefit,” he says. “With the border slowly opening, at least the American tourists have been able to come over and support our tourism industry. We know from talking to many business owners that the folks travelling over here are very respectful of the protocols that we have here in Ontario.”

With the border finally about to re-open, he is concerned about the financial impact this could have on area businesses. “When Canadians are once again able to shop in the U.S., we still want people to think about how important it is to shop locally and keep those dollars here in our community,” he says.

His advice? Have your own local Black Friday experience and when Cyber Monday rolls around, order from stores in Sault Ste. Marie. For Christmas, do your gift shopping right here in northern Ontario. The same goes for Boxing Day, New Year’s and all the way into Valentine’s Day. Whenever there’s a major event, think about where you’ll go in the community to find what you need.

Ring is also hoping that many of the jobs that are now vacant will be filled.

The chamber represents over 600 businesses and agencies—roughly 42 per cent of the workforce. It has been serving the needs of the community since 1889.

Throughout the pandemic, the chamber was instrumental in getting their members the right information. “Obviously it has been a changing and evolving situation. We’ve been the information disseminator, sometimes translating government speak into business speak and helping the members of our business community get the right kind of information in a timely way,” Ring explains. Just as important is taking information from the business community about what they need and communicating that to all levels of government.

A great example of this occurred when the government initially came out with the temporary wage subsidy—it was set at just 10 per cent. The chamber went back and was able to get them to rethink that, and ultimately the government provided a wage subsidy of up to 75 per cent.

The chamber was also instrumental in setting up the Algoma Vaccination Support Council.

They supported the efforts of Algoma Public Health to inform the community about the need for vaccination and then supported the transportation of community members to vaccination clinics. They raised $60,000 in cash and in kind to help vaccination clinic staff and volunteers, purchasing lunches for them at almost every single clinic. They did that right here at the GFL, The Indian Friendship Centre, Batchewana, Garden River, Thessalon First Nations, Blind River and Richards Landing.

“We were able to support a significant amount of our community, getting people to understand why it’s important to get vaccinated, how to get there, and then really trying to keep those staff and volunteers motivated. We took that money and put it back into the sector of the economy that was one of the hardest hit—those restaurants and food service establishments,” he says.

Small businesses are indeed the backbone of the community. When you buy from them, you are investing in entrepreneurship and supporting their creativity. The more unique local businesses an area has, the more of a destination it becomes, which in turn attracts new residents and a growing number of visitors. Everyone benefits.

Shop Local is an initiative of the federal government and the chamber’s role is to deliver the program locally. The feds have invested roughly $33 million across Canada to support Shop Local campaigns through the various Chambers of Commerce.

“We are the catalyst to bring the message forward and it’s one we support whole-heartedly," Ring says.

For more information, visit the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce.