In what’s now become a familiar tale, a business opened, thrived and then the pandemic brought it to its knees.
Salim Bardai, owner of two freshii stores said business was going so well at the Barrie store in 2018 he opened a second store in Bradford on Holland Street in June 2020.
“It was almost like swimming and drowning. We were swimming along doing great and then COVID-19 hit and we almost got a life jacket – with not only the government help, but we pivoted our business, too,” Bardai said. “It was great at the beginning, we just didn’t see (pandemic) waves 4,5,6,7,8... coming. We were thriving and then in January 2021 when they did the shut-down, that really hurt our business – it really set us back.”
Not one to sit idly by, Bardai started giving out lunches to first responders – both as a show of appreciation but also to use up the food inventory he had on-hand.
By concentrating on helping people, Bardai said he was thrilled when the Bradford Board of Trade (BBT) took up the challenge and began its #BWG TakeOut campaign to help small businesses. The BBT began offering customers a chance to win a $100 gift certificate when they uploaded a picture of a food experience with the hashtag BWG Take-Out on social media.
“Just from a participation point of view, I was amazed at the response from the residents of Bradford when it came to the Shop Local (campaign). I was just amazed by the amount of love that they showed to the community,” Bardai said.
“From our perspective, there was a natural buzz in the town, there was a pride about the fact that people were shopping local. It just didn’t show up on social media, it showed up when people were ordering and when we saw our third-party orders go up in terms of our Skip the Dishes, our Ubers, and our deliveries. It kind of made us feel good because we had customers walking in saying ‘You know what, I saw a post about your store and your salads really looked good. I want to try one’,” he said.
The #ShopLocalBWG campaign arrived from the provincial government by way of a grant through the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and runs between October 2021 to the end of January.
Consumers and winners alike have noticed logos in shop windows, pop-ups on counter tops, a dedicated social media blast as well as a large banner across Holland Street.
In addition to its role of advocacy and economic development, president of the BBT Jennifer Harrison said its course of action is to increase consumer confidence to shop and dine after repeated provincial shutdowns.
“The #ShopLocalBWG campaign is about showing people that it is okay to get out there and shop locally, that our restaurant owners, our store owners, have invested a lot of time and money and effort into ensuring that the experience is safe for consumers,” Harrison said.
“We can all understand the hesitancy of people to get back out there when we see numbers and see restrictions and all of that. The BBT really needs to be a leader and that’s what this program is about – to show people that it is okay to get back out there- it is safe if you do it properly. Because now more than ever, our small shops – even our big shops, our chains, who are owned by entrepreneurs or franchisees – need our help.”
Fifteen $100 prizes have already been awarded to lucky diners who have posted #ShopLocalBWG on social media.
Khurram Khwaja owns two Halibut House chain restaurants in both Bradford and Barrie.
Khwaja said his Bradford staff compliment has diminished and he’s changed his hours to now be open 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Khwaja agreed that consumers need encouragement to take part in the #ShopLocalBWG program this time. He has seen the social media posts and banners and hopes it will drive customers to his stores.
“The #ShopLocal helped, people were really engaged with it,” Khwaja said.
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Editor's Note: The campaign has been extended to Feb. 28. Updated Jan. 27, 2022.