THUNDER BAY -- A local business initiative appears to have helped keep some Christmas shopping dollars in the community.
The Bay Street and Algoma Street BIA held its annual Passport to Christmas event last week. About 20 locally-owned businesses participated, giving shoppers a chance to visit the stores and earn a stamp.
Collecting eight stamps gave the customer a chance to win a shopping spree at the participating stores.
Marlene Koskiniemi, owner of the Finnish Book Store, said the campaign helped to bring more customers to the area and check out the local shops, a benefit even if some of the customers didn’t make a purchase.
“It has been very busy,” she said. “I think Bay and Algoma attracts a lot of new customers. Christmas is probably one of the few times that if you aren’t a regular shopper it is the time of year that you want to come out and see what is available among the small businesses instead of just the big box stores.”
It’s difficult for the local shops to compete with some of the bigger stores in town, which have superior buying power that allows them to slash prices and attract business with promises of mega savings. Many local shops have responded by shifting their focus to customer service.
But not all locally-owned businesses agree with this focus.
Dave Radford, manager at the Power Centre, said a locally-owned business has to have good service and guarantee good prices. Being next to the bigger named stores doesn’t appear bother Radford who said he welcomes stores like Wal-Mart into the neighbourhood.
“As a local merchant, we too have to get in there and compete,” he said. “It’s not just better service and better product; it also has to be better price. This is our favourite time of the year. We sell a lot of stuff during Christmas.
“It has been pretty steady since the Black Friday. It has just been rolling in very steadily. We’re finding this week though that there’s almost buses dropping people off outside. They just come in big swarms. It’s really fun for us.”
It’s been a busy Christmas season for businesses on the south-side too.
Jack Moro, manager of J. B. Evans, said it has been an unusual season because of how the weather has directed the customers. The milder temperatures have helped people to walk around and look at the various stores in the Westfort area.
He said they’ve had a flurry of visitors from all over Northwestern Ontario but not in a steady stream.
“Getting people to shop local is tricky because our dollar is so strong and our federal government is being so generous in their allowance across the border,” he said.
“You have to give service. I hear every week someone lamenting the fact that they bought something from somewhere else in another country and it didn’t work well. They don’t get the consultation that they would get here.”