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Southern Alberta businesses find success opening during pandemic

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Despite the struggles facing many business owners during the COVID-19 crisis, some businesses have opened during the pandemic in southern Alberta. As Emily Olsen reports, owners say the pandemic provided a perfect storm for success – Jan 12, 2021

Starting a business in a pandemic is a daunting prospect, but for some in southern Alberta, the conditions fostered a perfect storm.

“We watched all the worldwide support for bookstores and books and shopping local, and we just thought the business model was still sound,” owner of Lethbridge bookstore Analog Books Penny Warris said.

Read more: Coronavirus: Lethbridge business charged with contravening public health order

Warris said the number of people staying home and looking for things to read meant they had a ton of local support before they even opened the doors at the end of November 2020.

“We actually thought about not opening but the support already with us not being open was so good,” Warris said. “People were phoning, they were sending us emails, they were ordering books even though we weren’t open, so we thought it would probably be best to just open.”

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She added that with the number of people working from home, many are seeking non-digital options like books and puzzles for entertainment.

“One of the reasons we called our place Analog is we call it an analog refuge from the digital world,” Warris explained.

Read more: Some southern Alberta small businesses frustrated with extended COVID-19 restrictions

Lethbridge plant store the Sill And Soil began as a farmers’ market regular but found that the pandemic offered an opportunity for a brick and mortar location and an increased focus on shopping local.

“I haven’t actually had to pay for much advertisement,” owner Hannah Lee said. “It’s just there’s been so much word of mouth, and that’s the best advertisement you can ever get is just people recommending you and having good things to say about you.”

Lee also is focused on her roots, supporting her fellow farmers’ market vendors with pop-ups.

“They make a supplementary income from going to those craft fairs,” Lee said. “They really lost out this year, so we were able to provide a space. They paid a small fee to kind of help us and cover our time and effort that we put into promoting them.”

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Out in Stirling, Hickory Street opened two weeks before the first lockdown, which ended up being an opportunity for the family-owned eatery to focus on how to improve access for Lethbridge customers to their southern-style comfort food.

“I didn’t choose to open right in the middle of it all but it just kind of happened that way,” owner Devynn Bohn said. “It’s just been a dream forever and then, sure enough, we open our doors, we’re open for two weeks, and then we have to close our doors. And we’re doing takeout only. Despite it all, it’s been amazing.”

She said the number of people in Lethbridge seeking their menu items has been welcome.

“People love their ribs,” Bohn said. “I mean love, love their ribs. I mean there’s like 20 racks going to Lethbridge today just for that.”

Read more: COVID-19: 2 Lethbridge businesses state intent to reopen on social media despite public health order

The main sentiment from each business owner is that supporting local themselves has been the best tool to succeed in difficult times.

“I’ve just found that positivity and pivoting have just kind of been my words this year,” Bohn said. “And being innovative, because if I wasn’t, I would have quit by now.”

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