Comment: At Pets West, from gloom and fear to hope and gratitude

“Shop local” is more than just a phrase; it is a beacon of light.

A commentary by the owner of Pets West in the Broadmead shopping centre.

A couple of weeks ago, things were looking very serious because of COVID-19. People were scared and only buying the essentials. We were only allowing one customer in the store at a time and only to pay, and the government was not giving us much in the way of guidance, support or answers.

Since then, we have made some strides forward, and there has been a little more clarification and support from government.

But most of all, we have seen encouraging signs from the local community that fills me with hope for the future.

So what has changed?

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To rewind back to March. The first reaction of consumers was to panic-buy, which required us to react quickly and stock heavily to meet demand.

But after the first wave of panic-buying dropped off, consumer demand dropped. People were well stocked on the essentials like food, and felt more comfortable ordering everything else online, which meant a shift to Amazon, Walmart and other large-scale retailers.

This is a major concern, as it is often a permanent change when people switch to this form of buying. Those large retailers can continually target customers by using personal information.

We have seen many small businesses close due to this, long before the pandemic. COVID-19 has only intensified what was already a major concern by limiting the manner in which people shop and hampering the ability of local retailers to provide advice and high levels of customer service.

In addition, government programs were limited and confusing, and there was no program yet for helping with rent, an expense that can be devastating to a business in a very short time when there is no revenue coming in.

Now the good news!

Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen a decided shift in consumer habits, as people recognize and act on the need to shop local. There has been tremendous talk about this subject in the news and on social media, and it is starting to take hold.

People are realizing the true power of their buying decisions, and what a difference it makes on so many levels when we all band together to support our friends and neighbours.

Not only does buying local support the businesses that exist, it also creates more jobs than spending at the giants. Small businesses employ more people per dollar spent, and all those dollars continue to circulate through the community in the form of tax dollars, additional spending, charitable donations, support for schools and youth groups, and so much more.

A week ago today, the Times Colonist highlighted our concerns, and that created an immediate and overwhelming response. People showed their support in many beautiful ways — coming into the store, using our new online shopping option, emailing words of encouragement and even offering to help.

It was truly amazing to experience the love and concern from so many in this community.

The fear of losing all that we have worked for and built over the years has been replaced with hope and gratitude.

Happily, this gratitude has also been extended to the staff who have worked so hard and stuck with us through this difficult time.

Ultimately, that’s all any of us want — to be able to continue to operate our businesses and employ (and reward) our staff.

We would prefer not to have to look for support from government, landlords or anyone else. We only want to be able to continue serving our community and remain afloat.

As I contemplate our next steps and how we will deal with the mountains of debt that we have incurred, my thoughts turn to those that remain closed. In our industry, groomers, trainers, vets, boarding kennels and other pet specialists who have given so much of themselves have been deeply affected.

I hope we can find new ways to support each other, even as I wonder how many will be able to open again. Everyone is hurting, and they are all key to the health and well being of our pets, who are, in turn, key to our own health and well being.

Moving forward in the next few weeks, months and years, my hope is that these new positive habits that we are developing will remain. That we will continue to be kinder and more understanding to each other; that we will all continue to work at helping and supporting each other; that we will maintain a new appreciation of all that we have and how easily it can be lost.

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