The latest pandemic restrictions, announced by the province on Monday, fell hard on Island businesses, particularly restaurants still reeling from the last time they were shut down. It is a testament to the resilience of Manitoulin’s merchants that so many doors remain open and that is largely thanks to the loyal Island customers who have stood by them throughout this once-in-a-lifetime ordeal.
It is no secret that the amount of online shopping has skyrocketed during the pandemic, as it is giant international online retailers that have been the main beneficiaries of the pandemic restrictions. If in doubt, any trip to one of the Island’s landfill sites will give testament through the growing mountains of discarded cardboard shipping boxes that greet the eye on any given day.
Island merchants have weathered many a storm. Like most rural businesses, Manitoulin’s merchants have had to struggle against the currents of the economies of scale that permit stores located in larger urban centres to cut margins to levels unsustainable for smaller operations. Now, even those urban-based businesses a couple of hours drive away are feeling the pressures from online competition.
Anyone walking down the business sections of Little Current, Gore Bay or Mindemoya today are greeted by a vastly different landscape than that of a generation past. In once example, the street outside The Expositor office in Little Current once boasted two hardware stores located in the downtown core, a grocery store, two jewellery stores, a shoemaker, clothing outlets and even a department store. While clothing stores do remain, as does a small niche grocery outlet, these are a pale shadow in comparison to days past.
“Use it or lose it” is an oft-heard phrase in the health industry, but that same sentiment applies to retail stores and services. Unless the custom comes in the front door of a business, its doors will soon be closed forever.
Islanders often express surprise when entering a Manitoulin business when they discover the items they have been spending copious quantities of time and treasure to source far afield can be found just around the corner at their friendly neighbourhood merchant.
So, for the sake of our friends and neighbours, and the sake of our own access to services and supplies near home, take a few moments to explore what a local merchant has to offer. Shop local and, in place of that evening out at a restaurant that you can no longer enjoy due to the latest restrictions, take a little time out for some takeout until we can all once again gather with friends at our favourite Island eatery.
In the meantime, stay safe, mask up and go wash your hands—we can do this.