Board of Trade members weather pandemic; local support crucial

·4 min read

“It was a really bad year,” said Ann Marie Bagnall, chair of the Guysborough and Area Board of Trade, as the organization assesses 2020 and looks forward to the year ahead.

In an interview Nov. 27, Bagnall told The Journal that the pandemic, and resulting restrictions, hit each of the 35 members of the organization differently, depending on which sector of the economy they belonged. But,overall, everyone struggled.

“For every member it was difficult because it was so full of uncertainties. And there were so many changing protocols. Some of our members – like the restaurants, accommodations and retail that depend on a lot of tourist volume—they were very hard hit. And, it was difficult to plan; not knowing if you would be open the next day or week,” she said.

The focus of the board this past year has been keeping the members abreast of the constantly changing programs and protocols. That was made a little easier when the board started to have weekly online meetings with Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway, who represents the area covered by the board. That line of communication, said Bagnall, was critical.

The board was able to give feedback about programs and make suggestions, which were used to adapt and modify some programs, such as the wage subsidy program and student job grants, to fit the needs of local businesses and non-profits.

“That was what was so key about those meetings (with MP Kelloway); it really did result in changes. The programs themselves – the government was just trying to get them out so quickly – it was trying to address the majority. But, once you got into those details and you look at (board) members particular circumstances, they can’t qualify because of ‘X,’ but they should qualify. It was bringing those issues up and getting them addressed,” said Bagnall of the meeting outcomes.

While it has been a very trying time, Bagnall said, unlike other boards she’s heard of, none of their members have had to close their doors permanently due to the impact of the pandemic. Nor have they, to the best of her knowledge, had any difficulty finding workers due to government programs such as CERB; a problem that was anticipated by some in the business community nationally.

As we head into the second wave of the pandemic, Bagnall said she thinks board members are prepared to deal with the disruptions that may lie ahead.

“I think we’re positioned to deal with it – it’s just a question of uncertainty. If you go into lockdown, how much inventory should I have beforehand? It’s the unknown; you gotta just roll with it, whatever happens. From the board’s perspective, we’re continuing to look at the support programs…. We’re going to keep following the same track we’ve been on.”

That being said, the board has made a change regarding this year’s ‘Buy Local’ campaign.

“The ‘Buy Local’ draw has been going on for quite a few years now and even last year we talk about the need to change it. This year we looked at it and said it was really impractical with COVID restrictions to have a draw done with ballots and people writing; there were a lot of issues if we were going to try to do that,” said Bagnall.

So, instead of a draw, the board of trade has decided to donate half of the budget they have traditionally used for the ‘Buy Local’ campaign give-away, and “reinvest that in a charity in the community,” said Bagnall.

“Major fundraisers for a lot of organizations have been so disrupted,” Bagnall said, which helped fuel the board’s decision to donate $250 to the Guysborough Memorial Hospital Auxiliary.

“The work that they do, and the importance of the hospital,was highlighted this year,” said Bagnall, adding that,while the amount was not huge, “It could help in a small way. And show that we really do appreciate their effort.”

While the pandemic has few silver linings, one of them might be the increased realization that we need local businesses to thrive, and – in order for them to do that – they need community support.

“Buy local; that is key and that will continue to be key, even more if a lockdown occurs again…. I think it (lockdown) highlighted the services we have in Guysborough. Can you imagine if you had to go further afield to go grocery shopping, get drugs or gas,” said Bagnall, adding, “It was a year that really highlighted supporting those merchants and making sure that we kept them.”

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal