Windsor-Essex-Supporting Local Shops and Restaurants

Original blog by Karen Paton-Evans, Postmedia Content Works | July 16, 2020

Within a week of COVID-19 restrictions impacting Windsor-Essex County, Lee & Maria’s on-farm market in Kingsville almost tripled delivering groceries to 1,100 households from its usual 400 customers.

“We had to hire more packers and drivers,” says Kevin Black. “We were blessed with an amazing staff that understood they were on the frontline,” keeping neighbours safe and at home. “Making sure people have healthy food – especially during a pandemic – is important.”

Throughout the county, thousands of other businesses have also re-imagined ways they can serve the community while protecting their organizations. Their impressive efforts are applauded by Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island and the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce. Together, the two organizations have launched ShopYQG to inform people who are eager to safely explore the shops, restaurants and interesting destinations in their own big backyard, either in person on online.

“ShopYQG was designed to highlight the great retail partners in Windsor-Essex – and that they’re open for business. The main goal of ShopYQG is to support local – whether it’s local entrepreneurs and artisans, boutique shops or big box stores and malls employing our residents,” says Gordon Orr, Tourism Windsor Essex chief executive officer.

At Lee & Maria’s, “As we got into the COVID-19 routine, we approached restaurants and asked if there were frozen products we could sell on their behalf,” Black says.

Along with fresh produce from its own and regional farms, the market at 692 Seacliff Dr. also retails libations made by area wineries, breweries and distilleries. “It’s not just business, it’s people supporting your neighbours. For us it was never a question of do we do it, it was how do we help.”

Anissa Noakes had her 56 local artisans and makers top of mind when the pandemic locked the doors of her Urban Art Market locations at 548 Chilver Rd. in Walkerville and 19 Chestnut St. in Kingsville. She ramped up her social media, posting images of handmade pottery, jewelry, knitwear, art and more, ready for delivery or curbside pickup.

“We didn’t anticipate how supportive people were going to be. A lot of our customers had been in the store before, so they knew what we had,” Noakes says.

She gave other folks personal tours via Facetime.

“We ended up getting 25 per cent new customers who had never heard of us before. Now that we’re open, I’m meeting some of them face to face,” says Noakes.

“People are more conscious now of supporting local. We need each other to keep our economy going and running successfully through the pandemic,” she says. “Instead of going to the U.S., people are spending their dollars here.”

That same enthusiasm for shopping close to home is evident at Devonshire Mall.

“We are going to celebrate our 50th anniversary later this year. Heading into the pandemic, we were at the highest volume of sales we’ve ever seen in our 50-year history” at 3100 Howard Ave. in Windsor, says general manager Chris Savard.

“In just the few weeks since Devonshire Mall has been reopened, we can see how thrilled customers are to be back amongst us,” he says. “Some tenants are seeing higher volume than they did in July 2019. Some are seeing less. It’s been a challenge for our food courts and restaurants.”

Feeling fortunate to have “a great sense of loyalty from our customer base,” Savard says, “we have strong confidence that we’re going to rebound. It will just take some time.”

For safety, traffic flow and physical distancing markers guide people in the mall. A limited number of shoppers are permitted in each store. Extra security personnel ensure everyone wears face masks, mandatory in all commercial businesses in Windsor-Essex County. Additional cleaning staff attend to common touch surfaces and public restrooms.

“I think as a mall, we’ve adjusted to the new normal,” says Savard. “Our customers overwhelmingly have been very cooperative.”

To thank people for their ongoing support of local businesses, Tourism Windsor Essex and its partners are offering free giveaways. Everyone can enter daily online to win a weekly gift certificate from a local business and the grand prize – a $500 shopping spree at Devonshire Mall, drawn the end of summer.

“In Windsor-Essex, we are fortunate enough to have an outstanding number of partners and stakeholders that have adapted to the public health and economic crisis during COVID-19 and pivoted their business. Through their adaptation and ingenuity, they’ll be able to create memorable experiences for locals heading out to support locals, or visitors looking for an authentic local experience,” Orr says.

“As we progress with easing out of pandemic restrictions, we look forward to witnessing our resilient partners make a successful return.”

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