Supporting Local Business During a Pandemic
By Emily Lomax
In the last three months, we’ve collectively and individually gone through waves of change that we never could have imagined. Our awareness of some aspects of our lives, such as essential services and products has become much more heightened. The impact that closures have had on our ability to access material goods has been a topic of conversation and concern. Many issues have been brought to light, such as vulnerabilities in supply-chains, as well as the importance of local business in the fabric of our communities. The adjustments that people have had to make have been a testament to how flexible and adaptable our society can be. With these adjustments, there is opportunity to ensure that our new ways of life, whatever they end up looking like, are built on habits that continue to support our local businesses to help build economic and community resilience.
There is no standardized or one agreed upon definition of ‘local’.
One way to conceptualize what ‘local’ means, is to think of yourself in the middle of a concentric circle (one with many rings). Each ring represents your house, your neighbourhood, then your city, region and province, etc.
When we consider a supply chain and a food system, we consider every component of that product or service that we are purchasing (i.e. material extraction, production, delivery, etc.) and which ring each component sits in. The closer all the components are to the center of the ring (i.e. you!) the more ‘local’ they are.
Long term effects
It cannot be denied that the impact of COVID-19 has greatly changed the retail environment, the way that we access food, and our shopping behaviour. Though it is still early on and difficult to predict what the long-term impacts will be, we can assume that the significant shift to online shopping will be here to stay.
The polarity of our hyper-local and -global reality.
We are more digitally connected to our friends, families, work colleagues, teachers, and students, than ever before. We have access to live webinars, concerts, yoga classes, and workshops. Though physically separated during the pandemic, we’ve never been more globally connected.
On the other hand, COVID-19 has intensified our sense of local community. We are spending more time at home and we mostly interact with people who live in our neighbourhood or those who work in the few stores that we frequent. Even as restrictions begin to ease, our movement is often still limited to our neighbourhoods and cities. Our physical reality is very much locally bound.
All over the city, and the country, retailers and restaurants are closing their doors permanently11 and it’s important that we support the ones that have managed to remain open. Supporting local business has always been important. Purchasing from a local retailer or restaurant is an opportunity to support your local economy (in a big way) and to contribute to a vibrant and resilient community.
Emissions: Shopping online may increase carbon emissions. There’s no clear winner between online and in-store shopping, but it comes down transportation, the largest contributor for both. 13,14,15 In-store shopping can be more carbon-friendly if travel is done my walking, biking, public transit, or along routine driving routes.
Waste: Online shopping creates more waste due to packaging 16
Local Impact: Online shopping often means that an item is being purchased from outside your local economy and food system, which results in little to no beneficial impact for you (beyond the purchase itself) or your community.
Understanding the primary challenge: options are limited
With the changes in the retail environment, closures, and social distancing, we simply do not have the same access to local products as we did three months ago.
Tips for buying local
Tips for shopping online
1 Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (2020)
2 Smith and MacKinnon (2007)
3 LOCO BC (2019)
4 Agrifood Analytics Labs (2020)
5 Absolunet 2020
6 Payments Canada (2020)
7 Retailer Insider (2020) – Food Prices
8 The Tyee (2020)
9 Global News (2020)
10 Food Secure Canada (2020)
11 Retail Insider (2020)
12 Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (2013)
13 MIT (2013)
14 Hischier (2018)
15 Wiese, Toporowski, and Zielke (2012)
16 CBC (2018)