London Drugs offers help to small retailers

Hundreds of applications are pouring into London Drugs from small retailers eager to take up the B.C.-based chain’s offer to carry their products.

London Drugs has been designated an essential service, allowing it to remain open during the coronavirus outbreak. With 82 stores in Western Canada, including four in Greater Victoria and two in Nanaimo, it is offering shelf space for the products of small businesses, many of which have closed their doors due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

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“This is a really hard time for many small businesses, and we are in a unique position in these challenging times where we can really help out,” Clint Mahlman, company president and chief operations officer, said in a statement.

The plan is to convert the stores’ centre aisles into “Local Central” to help small businesses survive the crisis.

Between Wednesday morning and midday, more than 400 applications had been submitted, said Rob Felix, senior vice-president of merchandising.

Applications were from Vancouver Island, the mainland and Alberta, covering a “wide cross-section” of products, including soaps, compostable garbage bags and organic chocolates, Felix said.

“We are going to take care and help as many people as we can.” It’s too soon to say which stores will carry local products, but the first two potential vendors were interviewed Wednesday afternoon, he said.

Products can be placed indoors or outdoors, if a local retailer has a rack with flowers, for example, Felix said.

Several local companies could be selling products through one store at the same time, he said. The company isn’t doing it to make a profit.

While a flower vendor with a rack outdoors would not pay anything, there might be some cost-sharing if a store was required to make some alterations indoors to accommodate a product, Felix said.

The company already works with local vendors in some locations, selling preserves and honey from farmers in B.C.’s Interior, for example, Felix said.

Taber, Alta., is renowned for its corn and London Drugs carries that product.

The company stepped up recently to help the Girl Guides of Canada sell 800,000 boxes of cookies, after the Girl Guides put community cookie-selling activities on hold because of social-distancing. All sales revenue goes to the Guides.

Small business owners can visit to learn if their products qualify and apply to be part of London Drugs Local Central.

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