Some small businesses in rural P.E.I. are feeling the local love

·4 min read

Some small businesses in rural P.E.I. are feeling the local love this year, thanks in part to a social media group called Support Local P.E.I.

Cathy Donnelly started the group in April 2020 after someone asked her for a list of P.E.I.-owned and -operated businesses.

She said that before she even finished creating the list, more than 200 people were wanting a copy, so she decided to create a Facebook group instead.

"I was always a supporter of local businesses, but with the [COVID] shut down it really struck me that, as businesses were being forced to shut their doors, many businesses were at risk of being shut down permanently," Donnelly wrote.

"People look to local businesses to support their sports teams, to donate to fundraisers, etc. Now, they needed our help."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Donnelly said the page also helps show Islanders don't need to leave P.E.I. to get what they need.

"Farmers to supply meats, vegetables and of course potatoes, Island artisans for unique one-of-a-kind gifts, clothing stores, print shops, computer repair, accounting services, restaurants, bake shops and more," Donnelly wrote.

'It's been dramatic'

Margaret McEachern, who owns Knit Pickers in Mayfield, P.E.I., was one of the first businesses to join the Support Local P.E.I. group.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

She said the number of locals coming to her shop has grown since she started posting in the group.

"It's been dramatic, for me, most of my social media followers were from away and all over the world, but not too much locally," McEachern said.

"When COVID hit, and the support local group opened up right about that time, as more and more people were joining, what I was finding is more and more people, local people, were connecting with me through social media, were interested in events."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

McEachern said those local connections mattered, as she faced a summer with limited tourist traffic on the Island, usually the mainstay of her business.

"About 90 per cent would have been visitors, perhaps 10 per cent local and that certainly has shifted," McEachern said.

"Even in terms of the customers that I'm doing for Christmas now, it's almost all local. So that's really cool. People are really engaged and really supportive of the whole support local idea."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Not just retail

McEachern said the group applies beyond just retailers.

"It's also involving catering, for instance The Yellow House over in North Rustico caters events, and if you're having an event, hire a local musician," McEachern said.

"Support the local farmers or me. I'm also supporting local shepherds because the wool is local."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

McEachern said the group has also helped her build connections with other small businesses on P.E.I., and she has even started "knit nights" that bring locals into the shop.

"The drop in income from visitors this summer, of course, is dramatic, but the support from locals has enabled me to stay open and to carry on," McEachern said.

"So without that, without the support of the local people, it would be a real challenge."

'Still surprised'

Brenda Doiron is also feeling grateful for the support of the Support Local P.E.I. group.

She opened The Makers Place in 2019, next to her home in Rusticoville, P.E.I., featuring the work of 25 artisans, including products she and her husband make.

"My first year I had no idea what to expect, but the majority of my customers were visitors, with some locals mixed in," Doiron said.

"But this year, the local support was fantastic. A really conscious effort to support local."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Doiron said her business is actually up this year, compared to last.

"Crazily enough, better, being as 2019 was my first year, so the word wasn't out," Doiron said.

"Then, with the real drive to support local this year made a huge difference. I am still surprised, every time I open the door, at the amount of people that are out looking for handmade, Island-made goods."

'Beautiful surprise'

Last year, Doiron closed the shop at Thanksgiving, but is staying open weekends until Christmas this year, thanks to the increased local support.

"It's at peak now, it's the Christmas season," Doiron said.

"But I do think it will continue, to some degree, because there's been a lot of great discoveries on the Island this year."

Doiron said she wasn't sure what to expect of 2020.

"I was very unsure of even opening, because it was early COVID times, certainly not where I am now with people coming in and enjoying the shop as much as they are," Doiron said.

"So it's just been a really beautiful surprise. I so appreciate it all."

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