I joined the Ambleside Dundarave Business Improvement Association (ADBIA) on March 4, 2020, just a few days before the pandemic hit. The first couple of years in my role as Executive Director were all about helping our businesses keep their doors open. The community supported shop and eat local initiatives, and almost all of our businesses survived.
We offered incentives like BIA Bucks to encourage visiting local businesses and enhanced our shopping areas with murals, lights, outdoor patio space and other beautification projects. On behalf of our businesses in Ambleside and Dundarave, thank you for your support throughout the pandemic.
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Small businesses account for most of our commercial base, employ hundreds of individuals, and are the backbone of our local economy. While many of our businesses survived the restrictions implemented during the pandemic, they are still in recovery mode. With government assistance loans now due, rising inflation in food costs, labour and supply chain issues, it is crucial to continue to support our shops and services to ensure a thriving business area.
Small Businesses Face Challenges
Aside from inflation, our businesses face the challenges of high lease rates, with many of our older buildings requiring more maintenance, which increases their operational costs, passed down to the retail business. We’ve also seen a rise in shoplifting, impacting the bottom line for our retailers. While big box stores and chains are better positioned to negotiate rising expenses, small businesses are left feeling the brunt of rising costs.
Over the past few years, many of us have grown accustomed to the convenience of online shopping. For retail stores to transition to a mix of online and physical sales involves more than just launching a website. It requires changing how a business operates, including technology upgrades, which means significant time and money. This is an expensive investment for a small business.
Walk the Talk
Residents all the time hear about how disappointed they are to see a business close or a rumour that one might be leaving. If we want to keep our local hardware store, restaurant, framing store, bakery, or barbershop, we need to ensure we support them and encourage others to do so. It’s too late once they’ve closed.
Overwhelmingly, people say they want to support local. In a recent Canadian survey, 92% said they love having small businesses in their community, but only 13% do most of their shopping at small businesses. Most of their shopping is done at big box stores, shopping malls, or online.
Here are five simple ways you can help small businesses remain a part of our community:
Support your favourite neighbourhood business.
Once a month, choose a new local business to support.
Share positive reviews on Google or Yelp.
Buy gift cards/certificates directly from your local retailer.
Follow them on social media and share their posts.
These solutions all come down to one thing: valuing connection over transaction. There is a clear desire for people to connect with and support small, neighbourhood businesses. A slight change in where and how you shop will greatly impact a small business.
Creating a space to enjoy shopping in an area is important, which is why the ADBIA has invested in our commercial area.
We have commissioned six murals in Ambleside, had the boardwalk and vintage phone boxes installed in Dundarave, completed sidewalk repairs in high-traffic areas of Ambleside, resurrected the Dundarave Hoedown, illuminated trees in the business corridor, created a beautification fund for retail level businesses, cleaned and power washed laneways, and organized community clean-ups.
We work closely with District staff to help new businesses retain permits, meet code requirements, and to ensure they are within the zoning regulations. It is a major investment for a new business to open, often taking months to finalize the permitting process, all the while paying for a lease but not yet generating any income. We will attract new retailers to Ambleside and Dundarave if the local community supports our businesses, as this creates a vibrant, busy, economically successful business area; vibrancy breeds vibrancy!
The ADBIA is committed to supporting our local businesses to ensure we retain the ones we have and curate new ones that will enhance our community. If you want to keep updated on business comings and goings, marketing initiatives, and events, please sign up for the ADBIA Newsletter – www.adbia.ca – It Takes a Village to Make a Village!
Maureen O’Brien is the executive director of the Ambleside and Dundarave Business Improvement Association.