THUNDER BAY — When the reality of the frightening impact on business from the COVID-19 pandemic began to set in, merchants worried what was in store as government mandated closures took hold.
The community was urged to shop local through online ordering, calling in orders and curbside pickups in an effort to help local businesses stay alive through the toughest parts of the pandemic.
“COVID for this place was the same as it was for everyone,” said Katie Gruen, from the Mad House.
“Maybe not on the same boat, but we were in the same storm.”
Merchants In the Bay and Algoma business sector of Thunder Bay had already established a thriving community “within its own little micro economy” prior to COVID-19, says Dennis LeBlanc, co-owner of Bay Lock and Key, and the true meaning of neighbours was about to shine through.
As the pandemic raged, each merchant shopped and dined at their neighbour’s establishment to make sure no one was left behind.
“Back in March of 2020, many of the businesses including the Mad House were completely shut down and many of the businesses along Bay and Algoma didn’t have an online presence,” said LeBlanc. “Companies like ours — that’s essential service providers — we haven’t stopped for a day.”
LeBlanc made sure to buy his entire staff lunch once a week from his neighbour the Mad House.
“It was tremendous to have the support from the community, not just Dennis alone, we have people from Calico come, and someone from Nomad came today to buy a gift certificate,” said Gruen. “We have also done up some specials and bought cheese from Bay Meats or from the Cheese Encounter, or bought tea from the International House of Tea. The sense of community has been pretty remarkable and really cool to be a part of.”
“It was nice to know you weren’t by yourself,” said Danielle Roy, co-owner with her husband Joey of Authentique. When the pandemic first started . . . I was talking with Richard and Mariene Koskiniemi at the Finnish Book Store and Diana at Finport and we wondered, ‘What’s going on?’”
After a lengthy closure the Roy’s were able to reopen, and had a rock thrown through their window in November. The owner of the Bridge Kitchen brought them baking and the Nomad, who was just setting up their business, offered to help with the window.
Marco Chiappetta, manager of the Nomad, described a busy time opening their business so close to Christmas and noticed “a lot of people around the area” come out to support them.
“We were new to the neighourhood and a lot of them were really supportive from Toy Sense, Bay Lock, and Calico who came in, and Rebel Salad came in to try and support us — this was right in the middle of COVID and in the middle of busy season,” he said. “We also have some partnerships with businesses in the area as well which is nice. We do breads with Rebel Salad and keys are exclusive to Bay Lock and Key.”
“All the businesses that were able to stay open during COVID have all been supportive of each other,” said Alexis Grunys, co-owner of Calico. “They make sure to grab a Rebel Salad then come over here for their coffee and they make sure they kind of spread it around the neighbourhood.”
With the second reopening phase to begin on June 30 and vaccines ramping up, customer capacity will increase in establishments and so will peace of mind.
“It seems to be a common conversation around, ‘Are you vaccinated yet?’ and I think there seems to be a sense of calmness about being around other people who are fully vaccinated,” said LeBlanc.
“Many of us are getting our second shots and are feeling more comfort being around other people . . . for me it is anyway.”
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal