CENTRE WELLINGTON – Buoyed by an increase in local tourism, some Elora and Fergus retailers are reporting a surge in sales this summer.
“It was an incredibly booming year for us,” says Marty Van Vliet, owner of the Mermaid in Elora and the recently opened Elora Distilling Company.
With limited options for where to spend their summer vacation, Van Vliet suspects Ontarians turned to popular tourist destinations like Elora, St. Jacobs and Picton in increased numbers.
“Those towns, I think we’re all booming this year because people were desperate to get out of the city and go places,” he says.
The Mermaid, which opened in 1992, logged a record breaking summer in 2021 with sales up 21 per cent over its previous best July and August, recorded in 2019.
“It was a phenomenal year, especially considering that we had a maximum capacity of 15 in the store at any given time because of COVID restrictions,” Van Vliet says. “Normally we would probably have 50 people in that store in the summertime.”
As for the Elora Distilling Company, Van Vliet says customers were so eager to buy, staff “were having a hard time making enough alcohol to keep the shelves full.”
As far as tourism trends, Deb Dalziel with Elora Fergus Tourism says the overall number of people coming through the doors of the tourist information centre has been down during the pandemic, but the number of people visiting the area from other parts of the province has increased. Retail has been one of the sectors most impacted by this shift.
“I have merchants I know in Elora that have said they virtually have seen their best summers,” Dalziel says. “And I think a lot of that is we have Ontarians who are traveling, not having to invest as much to travel.”
Fergus BIA chair Kim Jefferson agrees she's seen an increase in local travellers at her shop, Joanie’s Crafts, Gifts & Stained Glass Supplies.
"I think there's a lot more people that are kind of discovering either their own neighbourhood or neighbouring neighbourhoods," she said, citing day-trippers from nearby communities like Guelph, Orangeville and Brampton as examples.
Not only have there been more people coming through the doors at Joanie's, once there, they've also been ready to spend.
“People are coming with the intention to purchase, I find,” she says. “They’re coming in and they’re looking to buy things or they’re stumbling upon things and they’re very willing to purchase, like there’s no hesitation.”
It could be people are more flush with cash, having not spent money on expensive vacations this year, Jefferson says. Another contributing factor might be so much time spent at home has inspired people to invest in new decor.
“You’re trying to jazz up your house because you’ve been sitting there for lockdown. Our last lockdown was what, three months? Looking at those same walls, you already want to change them,” she says.
July and August sales at Joanie’s Crafts, Gifts & Stained Glass Supplies were up 25 to 30 per cent over pre-pandemic levels, says Jefferson. It’s allowed her to extend store hours and bring in new product lines.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed that it keeps going like this," Jefferson says, noting business is usually quiet in January and February, but if people don't go on tropical vacations this year that could change.
"Maybe they'll still do some day-tripping and come to Fergus/Elora," she says.
Alison Sandstrom, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com