If you had asked Suzanne Cooper before the pandemic to choose only one month out of the year for her business to be open, in a heartbeat, she would say December.
"The holidays are just so important for small businesses," said Cooper, who is the owner of The Cupcake Shoppe near the city's Yonge & Eglinton neighbourhood. "A good holiday season can really make or break your year."
Small businesses like The Cupcake Shoppe all across Canada are facing what may be their most challenging holiday season ever after a year of disruptions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are looking to holiday sales as crucial to their survival.
According to Statistics Canada, small businesses, (which make up 98% of all employer businesses in Canada) have been more likely to experience a decrease in revenue and are more likely to consider bankruptcy during the pandemic.
With overall holiday retail sales hitting $51.6 billion last year, there's a lot at stake this December for small businesses.
This holiday gift giving season, TD is launching its #GiftLocal campaign, encouraging Canadians to support small businesses and shop local. Canadians can show their support by holiday shopping at small local businesses and sharing images of gift suggestions and purchases to inspire family, friends and others via social media to do the same, using the hashtag #GiftLocal.
A December like no other
Founded in 2003, Cooper's shop is known city-wide for its variety of homemade nut-free, hand-illustrated cupcakes, cakes and cookies.
A typical December would find Cooper and her team of cupcake artists elbows-deep in flour and sugar, baking large orders of their signature nut-free delights for corporate functions and big events.
This December however, they're filling holiday orders of six-packs and boxes for one: a demand reflecting the local social gathering rules and virtual holiday parties.
Yet Cooper considers herself lucky – as a food-based business The Cupcake Shoppe has been allowed to keep its doors open as an essential service – but many neighbouring businesses have not been so fortunate this December.
"It was already a hard hit to our close-knit community to see generations-old mom and pop shops put out of business with the takeover of condos and chain stores in recent years," said Cooper.
"But now, it's heartbreaking to see the parking lot of a big box store completely full while the florist across from me has to close their doors, and maybe, never reopen them."
Yet for Cooper, and many other local businesses across the country this holiday season, there is hope for December and for the future, and it lies in the hands, and holiday shopping lists of Canadians.
The real value of a local gift
Business owners like Cooper are encouraging Canadians to 'gift local' this holiday season, in hopes that this December can be as cheerful for small local merchants as those opening presents.
"We know that consumers might have to go to box stores for some items," said Cooper.
"But if people can break down their shopping lists and buy whatever they need that's available locally first, that would make a world of difference. My business would not be open today without the local support I've received."
"Buying local is more than a good deed," said Cooper. "It's about investing in the future of our communities and the neighbourhood that you want to wake up to when this pandemic is over."
"Our choices today will determine what our neighbourhoods look like tomorrow. I for one hope to be able to step out of my front door and walk down the street to buy a bouquet of flowers once again."