As retail stores reopen Monday, Quebec business owners hope 'buy local' trend continues

Retail stores outside the Montreal region will be able to welcome customers in person for the first time in more than a month, but many are asking their clients to opt for online purchases and deliveries.

Brick-and-mortar stores outside Montreal now allowed to reopen their doors

Several changes had to be made at Mont-Tremblant's Fleuriste St-Jovite to respect government guidelines, including adding a plexiglass barrier in front of the cash register and limiting the number of customers in the flower shop at the same time to three. (Submitted by Elizabeth Voyer)

Retail stores across Quebec can officially unlock their doors today and welcome customers back inside, one of the first signs Quebec is gradually relaunching its economy.

With the reopening comes the uncertainty over whether customers will return. Many businesses are hoping that "buy local" campaigns that emerged during the quarantine — and the shift to buying local products online — are here to stay.

Businesses outside the Montreal region that have their own entrance were given the green light by Premier François Legault last Tuesday, when the government announced it would gradually allow certain workers to go back to their jobs during the month of May.

Elizabeth Voyer said she's thankful her Mont-Tremblant flower shop will be back in business the week before Mother's Day, one of her busiest days of the year.

But she was expecting to have more than a week's notice to go through the government's health guidelines and make changes to the shop.

"It's always a little bit scary because we've been told to stay in for seven to eight weeks — and then it's lifted all of a sudden — so it's a lot to think about."

Fleuriste St-Jovite had turned to deliveries over the past several weeks, allowing the 75-year-old business to maintain about half their usual sales. Voyer hopes customers will continue ordering online, or opt for no-contact pick-up at the store, rather than browsing through the aisles.

"Our main concern is that everyone's safe and healthy," she said.

Promoting small businesses

Ariane Arsenault is also asking her customers to change their habits when they enter her handmade soap shop in Havre-Aubert, on the Magdalen Islands.

"People put [the soaps] up to their faces to smell them," Arsenault said, a casual motion that now seems somewhat unimaginable.

La Fille de la Mer mostly thrives during the tourism season on the archipelago, from June to September. With a dismal summer expected, Arsenault said she was lucky to see her online sales spike after she signed up for the government's online platform for Quebec businesses, Le Panier Bleu.

Bracing for the absence of summer tourists in 2020, small businesses on the Magdalen Islands have launched a new online platform, called the Magdalen Islands Discovery Box, to promote local products to those outside the archipelago. (Submitted by Mélanie Plourde)

"Many small business owners who have online platforms are seeing this big wave of love," Arsenault said.

She's been working more than she normally does during the month of April to "pack orders and ship them all over the place," a wave she hopes will continue to make up for the lack of tourists.

Simons postpones reopening

One of Quebec's largest retailers, Simons, decided to push back the reopening of its nine brick-and-mortar stores in Quebec to May 19, instead of May 4.

"I prefer going slowly to reflect on our responsibilities than to rush in and open, without thinking everything through," said the company's CEO, Peter Simons.

The retailer also saw a spike in its online sales, particularly for its platform that distributes higher-quality, Canadian-made products.

Simons said the sales for its Fabrique 1840 collection were 10 times higher than during the same period in 2019, a sign he said, that consumer habits may have shifted once the crisis has passed.

"The word I think of is appreciation," said Simons. "Appreciation for what we purchase and appreciation for others around us in society."

The retail clothing store Simons will remain closed until May 19. (Dominic Martel/Radio-Canada)

The 180-year-old business has gone through two world wars and the Great Depression. But Simons said that doesn't mean emerging from the pandemic is going to be easy.

"I'm not going to lie, it's going to be slow and gradual," he said.

With files from Victoria Emanuelle Forest-Briand and Radio-Canada

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