Lori Paras has been something of a mother hen for the local business community. Though since the onset of COVID-19, the seasoned entrepreneur and owner of the Hub Bazaar has felt even stronger about the importance of protecting, preserving and supporting the collection of operations that enrich the Thunder Bay economy.
“It’s been a tough time for entrepreneurs, but we’ve managed to manage our way through this,” Paras says. “I haven’t had time to ponder much more than that because I’ve had to keep this ship sailing. We’re a community of businesses within a community.”
The Hub Bazaar, also known as Thunder Bay’s largest retail incubator, has been a space for up and coming businesses to have a space and test out their model in a low-risk environment before they transition to their own brick and mortar store. The Hub offers patrons everything from art, antiques, tarot card readings and thrift furniture to clothing, jewellery, giftware, books and bicycle rentals to coffee and freshly prepared food.
Businesses that are part of the Hub are provided with access to mentors, workshops and seminars. It has also been an event space to showcase local musicians, comedians as well as a host site for fundraisers and dinners. The pandemic taking away much of the ability to interact in the space and hold gatherings indoors, has required that aspect of the business to be put on hold.
To adapt, the Hub has implemented a contactless pick-up and installed a window courtesy of funding from Thunder Bay Ventures. They also installed plexi glass around designated vendors. The reality, however, is that Paras hasn’t been able to grow the space because she can’t offer the usual perks and growth opportunities that would usually be available. Currently there are six businesses part of her space, but notes that she’s lost one over the past year.
“People are really pondering and reconsidering what the priorities are in their life,” she says. “And for those who have lost a lot of their markets in their live customer base, more than a year living like this, they’re wondering if it’s worth it to continue.”
It would be an understatement, she says, that she’s looking forward for things to return to normal. Paras adds that she hopes this time of isolation and lockdown has provided the city of Thunder Bay and its residents, with an understanding of how important it is to keep local establishments alive.
“The city needs to take a good hard look at what it can do to ensure it has a plan to support small business because they are the life blood of this economy,” she says. “We’ve seen what we haven’t been able to offer right now and it’s just a flavour being taken away from a community. We can’t afford to lose that.”