An e-commerce platform created to help Calgary businesses get through the pandemic is shutting down on March 15.
Be Local’s online store helped about 100 local vendors reach customers and connect with each other during COVID-19, offering some entrepreneurs a lifeline as storefronts shuttered and people stayed home.
The manager of the group, Philip Lozano, says the store’s mission has been accomplished.
“Many of our entrepreneurs, especially during COVID, felt they were alone, felt isolated,” he said in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.
“The resilience and determination that they demonstrated for years was impressive and inspiring.”
Be Local is a network of community-focused businesses in Calgary. Each business, about 450 in total, pays a membership to have access to support, training, networking opportunities, and, over the last three years, have their products featured on the online platform.
The network itself is continuing, Lozano said, but the store will not.
LISTEN | Philip Lozano describes what it means for a business to be ‘community-focused’:
Calgary Eyeopener7:53Changes to Be Local
Margaret Taylor is the founder and owner of nudemarkt, a natural peanut butter company in Calgary that is a member of Be Local.
She said the online market offered needed support during an unpredictable time. When the pandemic hit, she could no longer sell at the farmers’ market or at her own retail space. Even at the grocery stores where her product was stocked, people spent less time browsing, so they weren’t finding her brand.
She also sold the peanut butter on her own website, but she found it hard to get noticed.
“Any time I could make a sale meant I was still in business,” she said.
“It meant a lot for me to have that extra opportunity to sell because then I’m also being exposed to their audience and the audience of other local brands that might even be a little bit more popular than mine.”
Lozano said many other entrepreneurs didn’t have an online presence when the pandemic hit. Over the last three years, that’s changed.
The group surveyed its members in March 2022 and found 83 per cent now have their own online platform. He suspects that number is now closer to 90 per cent.
Some members are still saddened to see the store go, he said, but they’re interested in moving forward.
“All of these businesses have their own platform. It’s time for us to focus on other bigger and better things.”
Be Local network
Lozano said the plan is to bring Calgary’s entrepreneurial community together again, in-person.
“Our focus this year is on bringing people together face-to-face, helping inspire entrepreneurs to learn about the impact they can create in the community and then to also build their capacity to create that impact,” he said.
For Taylor, the renewed focus is welcome. She said it was easy to feel lonely as an entrepreneur during the pandemic, and she’s looking forward to reconnecting with other, like-minded people.
“You’re talking to people who can speak your language. They know what you’re going through,” she said.
Taylor said she never reopened her retail location, but incoming sales from the online store allowed her to focus on boosting her presence in local grocery stores.
In her case, she’s OK to see the store go. But it played an important role in her company’s journey.
“It was a tool that we were able to use to help us get through a time.… Those days are kind of done, and the tool’s no longer needed.”