By Geneva Abdul © The New York Times Co.
TORONTO » The snow was falling outside Ali Haberstroh’s apartment in late November when the idea came to her.At the time, Canada was nearing a second lockdown to curb rising coronavirus cases. In anticipation, the owner of a vintage clothing store in Toronto who is a friend of Haberstroh’s had put together a list of other local vintage shops offering curbside pickup and deliveries in lieu of being able to open their doors.
“It was a wake-up call,” Haberstroh, 27, said of the list, which reminded her how enormous retailers like Walmart, Costco and Amazon had thrived during the pandemic while many smaller, local businesses had been shut. “I thought if there is one tiny thing I can do to help, then I should get on it.”
Inspired to build a more comprehensive list, Haberstroh promptly created an Instagram post, tagging independent businesses and shopkeepers across Toronto. Included was a new website, Not-Amazon. ca — a URL that she had bought for $2.99.
Introduced as a local list to help keep small businesses alive, Not Amazon was created “so you don’t have to give any money to Amazon this year!” the post read.
What began as a Google spreadsheet with more than 160 businesses collated initially from Haberstroh’s memory and research became a directory of hundreds that have a website and a high-quality photo and offer nationwide shipping, curbside pickup or delivery.
So far, the website has garnered more than half a million page views and grown to include 4,000 businesses across Toronto; Calgary, Alberta; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Vancouver, British Columbia. The site is now submission-based, and thousands of businesses are awaiting Haberstroh’s approval.
“In a big city like Toronto, where it feels like most businesses are local, I think it’s so easy to think these things will be here forever,” said Haberstroh, who works as a social media manager at a marketing firm and plans to expand Not Amazon to even more cities. “You don’t think that they’re going to go anywhere.”
Small and medium-size businesses contribute more than 50% to Canada’s gross domestic product. But since the pandemic lockdowns, 40% of small businesses have reported layoffs while 20% have deferred rent payments, according to government data.
At the same time, Amazon and big-box retailers with more robust e-commerce platforms have far outpaced small competitors, turning online shopping from a convenience into a necessity for consumers worldwide.
Haberstroh’s attempt to even the playing field has been welcomed by small-business owners such as Tannis and Mara Bundi, twin sisters who opened the Green Jar in Toronto in December 2019. The store specializes in bulk items, such as soap and honey, that customers buy to refill their own containers, reducing single- use plastics and household waste.
When the pandemic took hold in March, the sisters swiftly focused on their online operations and offered pickup and delivery, but even as restrictions eased, business remained touch and go. Since being on the Not Amazon site, the Green Jar has seen online orders rise 500% and has been “incredibly busy,” Tannis Bundi said.
“This type of initiative really gave an opportunity for small businesses to be seen and appreciated,” she said.