Downtown Windsor businesses get creative as shut down passes one month mark

Monday, April 27, 2020

CBC Windsor/Jacob Barker


The province of Ontario ordered all non-essential businesses closed on March 23, just over a month ago

Many expected the shut down of non-essential businesses in Ontario to last a few weeks but it has now been over a month since the provincial government made the order.

For some businesses, that has meant shutting their doors completely and waiting it out. For others, they've changed the way they get things done.

"We think it's best to keep on pushing through to get to our customers that have been so loyal to us," Bryan Datoc of Craft Heads Brewing Company said. 

Datoc has converted to a delivery and logistics company dubbed "BRUber Alcohol Delivery" during the pandemic. He said it's a safe way get their bottles out to customers during the COVID-19 pandemic — though they are finding it's a much more labour intensive process than running their tap room. 

Usually, their product would go from a keg to a glass, he said.

"Now we're going from keg to a hand-labelled bottle that's hand-bombed off a truck, hand-filled, hand-capped into a hand-labelled box, hand-picked and hand-delivered the customer."

Craft Heads did have the opportunity to continue on as a retail outlet to sell their product but taking its cues from some of the breweries in Toronto, they decided to switch to this new model for the time being. 

"We were lucky and fortunate enough to be able to pivot really quickly, get an e-commerce platform going," Datoc said.

"Before all this happened, we never had anything online that you can buy but our team worked to get something up on our website." 

It partnered with Pelee Winery and Wolfhead Distillery as well as Armando's Pizza Bar, Grand Cantina and Smashed Apple Catering to offer a wider range of local products.

"We want people to stay home so we're getting our product out to them," he said.

He said running the business in such a manner is more expensive. It costs more to package and deliver the beer.

Craft Heads is right on the line of being able to take advantage of government help such as wage subsidies and rent reduction. 

"It's either we scale it back in order to qualify for those incentives ... or we push through," Datoc said. 

"We can build a better business model if we do it this way if we keep on pushing."

Strong e-commerce presence paying off

The Whiskey Jack Boutique also had a bit of a leg up when it came to shifting away from in-person retail sales. 

The small shop normally relies heavily on foot traffic and tourism to make sales but with the storefront closed for business, they have had to shift everything online.

"It's been very strange not having our doors open," co-owner Katie Stokes said. "We did close our doors on March 15, so it's been quite a while and we definitely miss it." 

The boutique was set up with an e-commerce presence when it first opened its doors last May — something that has proven invaluable during the pandemic.

"When this all happened ... we basically just pivoted to online only," Stokes said.

The shop was working on their online presence before the pandemic hit. Using the Digital Mainstreet Grant from the province, they improved their search engine marketing and they also leveraged social media marketing as much as they could. 

"We didn't just wake up one day and it worked," she said. "We've been working on this for quite some time." 

It took time to figure out what people wanted in this business climate but she said people still do want to celebrate events — just in a different way. 

"They still want to celebrate milestones and birthdays and anniversaries and we're there as an opportunity for them to purchase something local and something beautiful and have it sent to someone to surprise them and make their day." 

One product they've found success with, she said, is the chocolate postcard. 

"It's been really nice just to read those positive messages, they're being sent to essential workers, to family and friends, people saying they miss each other." 

She said the energy they've put into their online presence is showing dividends, with sales for the month pretty good.

"It's definitely paying off and I think that's important because people want to know that life still goes on and these shops are still functioning," she said.

"We still need the support so we can open the doors after all this."