It appears the efforts of Smithers businesses in creating a safe and accommodating local shopping experience along with a concerted campaign by the town and chamber of commerce is paying off.
Grant Harris, chair of the Smithers Downtown Merchants Association, said many local retailers and service providers have seen an uptick in local shopping over previous periods and it has even allowed some businesses to take on additional staff and offer extended shopping hours for the holiday season.
“Not only does shopping local appear to present an advantage to the store owners, but it offers the area economy a benefit in that there are more paid employees also spending locally and more local spending by businesses overall,” he said.
That has certainly been the case for Heartstrings Home Decor and Gifts. Sherri Matthews, co-owner of the Third Avenue shop, said their business is double what it was last year at this time.
Matthews attributes that directly to the shop local campaign and said she believes it demonstrates the community spirit people have in Smithers.
“I think people are really digging in and buying what they can locally,” she said.
“What I’ve really noticed is the eye contact that people give you, they’re generally grateful and happy for the interaction and happy to spend their dollars here and we’re happy help them. The spirit good.”
Local Supply Co. is also seeing one of their busiest winters ever according to store manager Micaela McTavish.
While she said there is a component of people looking to outdoor recreational activities in light of the curbing of out-of-town travel and shutdown of indoor cultural activities, she also attributes the increase to community spirit.
“We’re incredibly lucky to live in northern B.C., but particularly in Smithers,” she said. “Smithers is so community-based and community-driven and now more than ever it’s been awesome.”
McTavish also pointed one particular program that has been a contributing incentive for local shopping. The Support Local BC program (supportlocalbc.com) offers people a $25 gift card they can use at any participating business when they make a $50 purchase at any other participating shop.
“The platform is really easy to use for us as the business and we’ve definitely seen lots of people come through because of it,” she said.
Of course, with COVID-19 restrictions, businesses have had also had to adapt, not just with the in-store physical measures, but providing alternative shopping opportunities.
Harris said it has been a true community effort including the town fast-tracking approvals for warm-weather patios and outdoor retail spaces, chamber-led shop local messaging and businesses expanding online shopping and implementing innovations such as curb-side pickup and delivery services.
Heartstrings has also seen an increase in their local online business.
“It’s getting stronger all the time and some of those sales are local pickups, too, so, they’re buying online and they’re picking it up at the back door,” she said.