Todd Cowan is surprised at how many new businesses are opening during a pandemic.
The publisher of the Waterloo Region Rural Post says he’s been happy to see local businesses take the optimistic step of opening, expanding or celebrating milestones during a year that’s been so hard for so many.
Last Spring, during the first lockdown, Cowan says he noticed flower businesses like Frey’s Flowers in Elmira were suffering.
After Covid-imposed restrictions meant no flowers were allowed at funerals and weddings, and graduations were canceled, florists found business was slowing to a crawl.
“We said ‘What can we do?’” says Cowan, who came up with a plan to help out the struggling local businesses while also celebrating those taking the big leap to open their doors during uncertain times. “It’s tough to start new business in a pandemic.”
Partnering with Frey’s Flowers in Elmira, Riverside Flowers in New Hamburg and Grammy’s Boutique in Wellesley, Cowan and the team at the Rural Post are sending each new business that opens in the area a plant and a coupon for a free ad in the paper.
Cowan hopes the small gesture will help get the word out about shopping local and that spending locally will continue even after the pandemic shutdowns are over.
“We’re out there doing whatever we can,” he said. “I hope it really starts to hit home for people in small towns that we have to start shopping local.”
In addition to sending plants to those with something to celebrate, Cowan says the paper is hoping to help those trying to recover from the rough year.
What he calls the “recovery program” was started just before Christmas. Local businesses that commit now to advertising with the Waterloo Region Rural Post sometime in the year will get a discount of 30 per cent on all of their ads.
Some advertisers have committed to spaces as far off as Fall 2021, waiting until traffic increases, but taking advantage of the discounted prices now.
Not-for-profit businesses and community organizations are being offered 50 per cent off advertising as well.
“They’re missing a lot of their opportunities, like the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, to raise money,” says Cowan, who hopes to use the Post’s advertising space to encourage people to help where they can. “And it’s working.”
Cowan says the ads, of course, help the Post plan for the future as well. In a year where everyone has been hit hard, local media is no exception.
“It helps us to know our lights are still going to be on,” he said. “I don’t believe any of our customers have paid full-price for anything since the pandemic started.”
Cowan is also encouraging his writers to find stories that highlight positive things going on in the community, knowing that a constant stream of pandemic news can get people down.
“We’re keeping things relatively positive so people don’t get overwhelmed,” he said.
Seven baskets have been sent so far, celebrating seven new businesses in the townships. Cowan says he talks to the mayors of the four townships regularly and he’s keeping his ear to the ground, hoping to hear about more businesses with a reason to celebrate – but he needs help.
“If people out there know of a new business or a business celebrating a milestone, or if people know of businesses struggling and need some help, we’ll try to see what we can do to help them out,” he said.
If you know of businesses or organizations that need help, you can contact Cowan directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Elizabeth Bate