Thanking local business owners for their tenacity, determination, and courage in the face of uncertainty

·5 min read

To say that business owners have been through the wringer since early 2020 would be an understatement. Balancing the ever-changing list of restrictions followed by public scrutiny and the unknowns from one day to the next, they have juggled more in the last 20 months than they could've ever imagined. "I'm fairly confident that in December of 2019, not a single person knew what was coming down the pipe," said Dana Severson, Executive Director of the Whitecourt & District Chamber of Commerce.

"Business owners had a huge learning curve. They never thought they would have to implement any distancing or separation from their customers. That meant exploring where they could get plexiglass or plastic dividers found and made in short order and decals for floors for spacing. These were also unbudgeted expenses so that they could stay open."

For those that weren't able to stay open, Severson said the learning curve was high. "They had to find a way to reengage and reconnect with their customers to offer things like curbside pick up or delivery. Along with that comes your staff doing tasks and roles they've never done before because there is a significant increase in demand for one service and a significant drop in demand for another one."

The resiliency shown by business owners was exceptional as they went from open to closed to restricted. "When things reopened again, there was a crush for services and products, and there were supply chain issues. They had to utilize different products and suppliers because of that lack of availability. People had to do a lot of researching and digging and put a lot of effort into things that would normally be second nature to them any other time. Now there were more steps involved which makes things difficult."

With being shut down again, Severson said business owners are continuing to push through the unknowns. "There are a lot of small business owners who laugh when someone mentions having gone on holidays because they couldn't take any time off. They've been running the ship for months and months now because they are the only constant in that operation right now."

Severson said that a push for businesses supporting each other became important through all the ups and downs. "The effort and the intention from local businesses reaching out to support each other has been a noticeable thing. They've created ways of coming together and cross-promoting, and placing a little more importance on the need to have each other's backs in this community. It's about putting in the extra effort to find out if what we need can be had here before we look elsewhere."

She said she hopes to continue to see that happen. "Folks are going to get busy again, but that little extra effort to support each other and remember how we got through this as a community is important to keep in mind." Severson said the restrictions forcing people to pause in an area that has gone nonstop for decades enabled creative thoughts and ideas to come through, which she believes will benefit businesses in the future. "Desperation breeds ingenuity. They've found ways to retool and reproduce and utilize skillsets that maybe were underutilized before."

Severson said that recognizing vulnerabilities, not only in the local economy but in the Albertan and Canadian economies, is an eye-opening experience from the pandemic. "You can't work on fixing a problem or finding a solution if you don't realize there's a problem in the first place. One example is our supply chain issues. Those are going to be continuous. Those are not going to rectify potentially through 2022. That lends itself to thoughts like, what can I source domestically if I'm vulnerable to international products and shipments? There's an opportunity that comes from that."

She said that seeking domestically-made products will be more vital after dealing with the continued supply chain hiccups. "If you have a manufacturer that is backlogged, but this other guy a province away from you makes the same kind of product, maybe it costs a little bit more, but you can have a consistent flow of material, then that's a give and take. I think it has brought to the limelight how important it is to look domestically and how valuable our domestic industries are and the importance of supporting those."

To the business owners who have worked tirelessly, Severson said they deserve a shout-out for putting in countless hours so they could remain available to the public. "You have been learning nonstop this whole time, trying to keep up and continue to provide products and services to local shoppers. You're going through something that no one has had any idea how to handle, what steps to take, what works, and what doesn't. This has been trial by fire. We couldn't look back at the eighties and see how they handled it. This is an animal that was unexpected and fast-moving, and no one was unaffected by it."

Though not out of the forest just yet, Severson said the determination and spirit of local business owners, entrepreneurs and their staff is inspiring. "So many of our business owners were at the brink, and they are still pushing through. They are selfless and dedicated. You can't even put that type of character into words. Tenacity. Diversity. Risk takers. Consistent. Community-focused. Collaboration. We have an amazing business community."

Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press

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