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Main Street businesses adapt during pandemic

Main Street in Canmore hasn’t changed much at first glance. Over time, businesses come and businesses go. Or, they are bought out and rebranded under new ownership and management.
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Joy and Charlie of Café Books on Tuesday (Dec. 8). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

CANMORE – Main Street in Canmore hasn’t changed much at first glance.

Over time, businesses come and businesses go. Or, they are bought out and rebranded under new ownership and management. It’s all part of the normal flow of things in a mountain town.

What is notable in 2020 is how small business does business in the face of a pandemic.

Café Books is a locally owned bookseller on Main Street. Originally from the U.K., Joy and Charlie McLean took over operations in 2006, and during the spring lockdown had to re-imagine how to supply the avid reader with the latest in print materials.

“We started doing [more] online,” Charlie McLean said. “We always had a website, but not many people used it. It was more of a community store [with] people coming in and we didn’t get a lot of traffic through the website.”

Web orders increased while in-person shopping was prohibited, and the store saw a huge spike in phone orders.

“We then just started delivering,” McLean said. “I changed my car into a bookmobile. I was in the car six, seven hours a day driving around. Joy was in here, we didn’t have any staff because of obviously the lockdown, so Joy was fielding the phones and the online orders, and I was driving around in Banff, Exshaw, Cochrane, Canmore and Calgary.”

The couple started doing deliveries a couple of days a week, and that soon became three, and then five days a week.

As restrictions eased in May, Café Books adapted once again to the new protocols. Hand sanitizer was made available, masks are worn by all staff, and Plexiglas has been installed at the counter. Customer numbers within the store are also restricted in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines set out by Alberta Health Services. The bookmobile continues to roll.

Bella Crusta has been operating near the corner of Sixth Avenue and Main Street for 20 years. The shop specializes in fresh-baked focaccia, sandwiches and in-house made pizza. Owner Mark Trofinuk saw similar challenges as Café Books early on.

“I took a break for two weeks,” Trofinuk said, “and then for my mental health I came in here and I just started selling bread and take-and-bake pizzas from 12 to 4. I wasn’t doing any sandwiches though.”

The move helped keep his regular clientele coming by for takeout at least, and along with Stonewaters owner Mike Gordon, Trofinuk used the down time to do some community outreach.

“Mike and I decided to do something for the seniors in the community that couldn’t get out,” Trofinuk said. “So, what we did is we delivered a box of chocolates from Jacek Chocolates, a candle from Stonewaters, a loaf of focaccia bread from Bella Crusta, and as a joke we threw in a roll of toilet paper.”

Seventy care packages were distributed throughout Banff, Canmore and Exshaw.

In normal times Bella Crusta has 10 seats inside, in addition to 24 outside in the summer months. When lockdown restrictions eased, sandwiches came back on the menu, but there wasn’t enough space inside to properly social distance. The normal 60/40 takeout/dine-in split began to lean more heavily to takeout. With the cold weather of the winter months, the shop is now takeout only.

In response, Trofinuk updated the company website, while also investing time and energy to an order-by-text program and an increased presence on Facebook and Instagram.

Project A is a newer addition to Main Street, but owner Jade Ansley is from Canmore and has been running the shop for nearly four years. Project A features emerging Canadian artists who create all of their work by hand and are in the preliminary stage of owning their business, usually within five years of start-up.

“We sell everything from clothing and jewlery, to ceramics, bath products and wall art,” Ansley said.

At first, there was uncertainty about how COVID-19 protocols would affect independent retail outlets, but Ansley reports an outpouring of support for local businesses by the community, and for the most part in-store customers are respectful of the new rules.

“Most of our customers are return [customers] or have at least heard of us before, so they’ve all been very, very supportive of what we’re going through,” Ansley said. “Every once-in-a-while we do get someone who, I don’t know, the conspiracy theorists or whatever, that think it’s all fake, but it’s been pretty good overall. Our clients are really, really lovely people and they just want to support the artists.”

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