With the holiday season just weeks away and health officials urging Canadians to avoid non-essential travel, there's a push from a number of Windsor groups to encourage people to shop and celebrate locally for the holidays — an initiative that helps local businesses that may be struggling because of COVID-19.
Sisters, Rachel and Lauren Vollmer, noticed the "devastating effects" the pandemic has had on small businesses and took it upon themselves to curate gift boxes made of items from small local retailers.
They started their venture, Local Provisions, in October and noticed a growth in interested buyers. They've partnered with Downtown Windsor BIA to distribute gifts to corporations looking to buy for their staff, but they've also sold their gift boxes to those looking to buy for their family and friends.
"I feel like there's no wrong way to shop small. It's just making sure that you support your community. You can do that, you know, in your neighborhood or the town," Lauren said. "Sometimes supporting local business isn't always, you know, to making a purchase ... it could be sharing things on social media."
The Vollmers have different themed gift boxes and offer free delivery within the Windsor-Essex area.
One of the local entrepreneurs they're partnered with is Craig Marentette, the owner of Red Lantern Coffee Co. in Kingsville, who already has nine bags of coffee going in his first order with Local Provisions.
"It's pretty great," he said. "Kingsville, you know, is a small town. There's a lot going on here ... but not as big of a market as Windsor. So it's nice to be part of that."
Windsorites want to support local businesses
Some Windsorites seem to be on board with the idea of supporting the local community.
"I'll support small businesses more than big business," Dragan Susic said.
Hannah Westfall agrees, "I like to support smaller businesses in this time just because they don't get the money."
"I try to support the smaller businesses. They're the ones that are hurting the most," Ron Durocher said. "Wal-Mart and Costco, they've been open and people have been going in, but the small stores have really been struggling."
Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island is also encouraging people to stay-cation and shop within the region through their events and gift guides, which highlight local virtual events, holiday light maps showcasing houses with light displays and places to shop.
Jason Toner, the director of marketing communications, said the gift guide is a big feature this year and it's been getting a lot of engagement online.
"Last year, it was an eight page guide. This year, it's a 24-page guide that features 175+ either artisans or small businesses to support. And it goes more beyond just gift giving, it goes about where to buy your local produce, where to buy a pre-made meals, experiences that you can give, a winery guide, a brewery guide, distilleries and ways to support small either in person or virtually," he said.
"We were able to offer it as a free marketing program to all these small businesses. And we know they need the support this year. So, we're really helping amplify that message for them and hope that it helps all of them in turn."
These initiatives keep in line with what health officials are urging Canadians to do: keep within your own household and stay close to home.
"Christmas is not going to be having any kind of large group interactions," Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said. "Even with family, you've got to really think twice. Avoid non-essential travel. Keep to your current household contacts as much as possible."
Skip Amazon, buy local, says Vollmers
The Vollmer sisters think it's important to support local businesses which have been significantly impacted by COVID-19.
"There's just so many great small vendors in your area, [you] just might not know about them," said Rachel. "So, I think just even doing a bit of research and finding them, you'll realize that they have a lot of amazing products. A lot of them are handmade. A lot of them use materials that are even from Windsor. So it's all very local. And I think just keeping the money in your own economies is beneficial to everyone, ultimately."
"I think if you can afford to do it, try and skip Amazon and buy from your local stores so that they can stick around," she said.
Toner echoes the same sentiment.
"Keeping those dollars local are important ... and showing that support for your neighbours and friends. Half the time you can start up a relationship with that person that you're buying from to grow and repeat business. And I really think it helps people learn what Essex County is all about."