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Calgary small businesses adapting, changing in wake of coronavirus threat

Calgary small business owners are grappling with a new economic reality as measures to thwart the spread of coronavirus have slowed sales to a trickle.

On Tuesday, the Alberta government declared a state of emergency and introduced new measures on social distancing.

People have been encouraged to stay home whenever possible, which is a major blow for local businesses. Some have had to temporarily close, others have had to adapt.

One socked step at a time – Plainsbreaker Apparel

For Troy Schmirler, co-founder of local custom sock maker Plainsbreaker Apparel, a three-year-old Calgary company that employs nine people, the arrival of the coronavirus has slowed foot traffic to his business.

Recently, Schmirler’s company invested in building a manufacturing plant in Calgary’s southeast.

They’re doing what they can to stay afloat. Plainsbreaker launched a sale urging customers to save local businesses by supporting them during these tough times. They’ve launched a COVID-19-themed sale, offering 19 per cent off all orders for its custom socks made in Calgary.

“This is a way to keep money in the local economy and also give people a chance for a great deal to save on custom socks,” Schmirler said.

Downtown store temporarily closed

The Plainsbreaker team. CONTRIBUTED

Schmirler said their downtown store inside The Core shopping mall would have 100 customers on an average day. Most of that traffic would come at busy times, such as the lunch hour rush.

But as more cases of COVID-19 appeared in Calgary and people began to stay home, the decision was made to temporarily close the store as it wasn’t cost-effective to keep it open for customers who were no longer coming in.

“It will be hard for us to be opening back up in the future based on the economy. Just because the malls are open, it doesn’t mean people will be shopping,” he said.

Schmirler said that their online store is still up and running and they plan to continue running their brick-and-mortar location, but that may change in the future.

“It’s been scary with the uncertainty of what tomorrow is going to look like. You have to take each day in stride and do what you can to make the most of it.”

But Schmirler said it’s important for Calgarians to continue supporting local businesses.

“Pipelines don’t drive the economy — people spending their money drive the economy. Some of the best quality products are made locally and many people are slowly realizing that it’s taking time,” Schmirler said.

Local biz helping front line health workers

Jenny Strand, manager of Bottoms Up Scrubs in Mahogany, said their locations in Calgary and Red Deer are still open to help out front line medical workers.

“The last thing they should have to worry about is where to find these items to make sure they have extra uniforms for the extra shifts they may be picking up, proper shoes to keep them comfortable or replace a stethoscope should theirs break or go missing,” she said.

“It’s been a difficult time all around, but we want to do what we can to take one less thing off their plates.”

As a small business, Strand said that they have the flexibility to accommodate requests for medical supplies for those who need it before and after business hours.

They have also lowered the minimum order amount for free shipping and have cut their standard shipping rate by 50 per cent to make it easier for customers to get supplies at this time.

“We have a website in addition to our brick-and-mortar stores, with shipping available all across Canada. As long as Canada Post remains open, we will provide to offer this option to our customers,” she said.

But like many businesses, Strand said that temporary staffing reductions have been made due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are working hard to bring everything back to normal as quickly as we can,” she said.

According to Strand, all of their off-site events and conferences in Calgary and at rural hospitals around the province have been cancelled until the end of April.

Owl’s Nest changing their business – again

Susan Hare and her husband Michael are the owners of Owl’s Nest Books, an independent general trade bookstore located in the southwest Calgary community of Britannia.

The coronavirus hasn’t been the only issue the 45-year-old bookstore has faced recently. Hare said property taxes introduced in January led to financial hardship and forced them to reduce the size of the store.

Recently, as customers began to take precautions in order to avoid the coronavirus, the bookstore made the decision to provide delivery services to all of its customers in Calgary.

“We have always provided free delivery within eight kilometres of our store. So, when the scope of social distancing became clear, it only made sense to expand our service,” she said.

There has been a high demand for the city-wide delivery service since it was introduced on Monday. It’s great news for Hare as the store has seen customers come through its doors since classes were cancelled by both school boards.

“Parents and families are looking for entertainment while schools and many businesses are closed,” she said.

Publishers are helping bookstores

When asked how the bookstore would continue to survive through these tough times, Hare said that publishers are helping them wherever possible.

When Wordfest arranged to have authors visit Calgary for an event, the bookstore received books from publishers.

“We had the books already here and sending them back would have been extremely expensive. The publishers arranged to cover the shipping costs for us,” she said.

As for employees who work at Owl’s Nest Books, Hare said they’ve been following cleaning and social distancing guidelines from Alberta Health Services.

“On a personal level, anxiety seems to be the biggest issue for all of us.”

“We are doing self-care — whatever is right for each person,” she said.