No Place Like Home for Holiday Shopping

This year we will celebrate the holidays as we creep up on the one-year anniversary of the first time we heard the words novel corona virus and our world still feels strange and unfamiliar. Some of 
the differences are very subtle, but most of us feel ‘off ’ in this new space. We are surviving, but not many of us are thriving. 

When Covid locked us in our homes in March, many of us felt severed from our daily relationships and routines. Confined to our homes, or on snowy walks making wide arcs around oncoming pedestrians, the threads that held us together as a community seemed absent. Seeing the need, my artisan friends kicked into gear creating crafts, streaming content, poems, and pictures that sustained us and reconnected us with the humans around us—giving us hope and joy, mostly at little or no cost to us. 

The other thing that kicked into high gear is online shopping. Services like Amazon ballooned to new volumes and postal systems were overwhelmed by holiday-level deliveries in May. The uptick in online shopping has been so dramatic that North American billionaires have increased their net worth by $637 billion dollars since March. If you divide Amazon owner Jeff Bezos’ net-worth increase by its 876,000 employee workforce, he could give each one a $105,000 bonus and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic. (He didn’t give them a bonus, by the way—he forced them to work in unsafe conditions and refused to pay them when they got sick.)

I know it’s nearly impossible to avoid shopping online these days—I’ve made my share of Amazon purchases—it is a great resource. We absolutely are grateful for access to things we could never otherwise get in a small town. It is, however, undeniably too easy sometimes to jump online and with one click have a gift taken care of, and I worry that our local retailers are suffering. In contrast with Mr. Bezos, many artisans and small businesses are starting to look for additional income as the CERB runs its course. Juno Award winning songwriter Old Man Leutdeke, for example, has been working on a fishing boat in Nova Scotia. My friend and decorated folk-singer JD Edwards has recently advertised on Facebook that he’s looking for employment. A quick walk through our downtown core will reveal four or five empty storefronts where a year ago there were thriving businesses. 

We tend to think of art and music as a luxury, but when the chips are down who is it that gets us through the hard times? With the holidays coming, and gift shopping starting to ramp up, I’d 
ask you to think back to April and May and remember the bright simple joy of anticipation we had each week looking forward to the things that remind us of our connection to our community. Many artists are struggling but the holidays are a great time to look at local options for gift-giving. Buying handmade, or buying local are sure ways of keeping our artisans working. To put it in mining terms, our artists are the canary in the mineshaft: when a town’s arts are healthy and vibrant, it’s a good indication of the pulse of a community. Conversely, when the artists start moving away or looking for other jobs, it means we need to step up our action to maintain the health of our area.

In Fernie we have some wonderful local resources: art co-ops, boutiques, retail galleries and pop-ups. Our artists are working hard to get their works into your hands, so before you jump online and give your money to someone who doesn’t care about your community, take a few minutes to check out our local shops where real people who care about this town are living and working to make it better. 
This piece is not a guilt piece—I have no judgment because our family shops online too. This is about creating a balance where our local shops have a chance at our business first before we look online. Not only does it help a local family, but it helps our town become more sustainable, and typically makes for a more personal, heartfelt gift.