Canadian small businesses receive support while recovering from pandemic impacts

Sep 21 2020, 4:35 pm

Entrepreneurship is often romanticized by factors like designing your own work schedule and having the freedom to take time off as you please. But the reality looks very different for many Canadian business owners — especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

Almost half of business owners (49%) say that every day is a fight to keep their business alive, and just over half (53%) are nervous about making it through 2021, according to results from a recent survey by American Express (Amex). However, almost three quarters (73%) of business owners are ready to take on the challenge of rebuilding.

To support small businesses as they work towards recovering from the impacts of the pandemic, Amex Canada launched a national Shop Small program. Running through September 13, 2020, it gives Amex Cardmembers the chance to earn up to $50 in credits by supporting their favourite neighbourhood spots.

Now more than ever, small businesses are counting on the support of their local communities as they pave the road to recovery. We caught up with the owners of three Toronto-based businesses to learn how they are navigating these unchartered waters.

The Dirty Bird

Jernyle Baradi, The Dirty Bird/The Dirty Bird

In March 2015, Toronto chefs Brian Butler, Adrian Forte, and partner Daniel Quintas opened their first location of The Dirty Bird Chicken + Waffles at Kensington Market. Their goal has remained the same since then: to serve guests the highest quality, fresh and locally-sourced food. Providing an authentic dine-out experience is important to the team, along with offering halal chicken fried in a signature gluten-free dredge.

Quintas’ career followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a baker growing up. But while he’s faced his fair share of adversity, Quintas said recent months have been especially difficult. “Slowly, people are coming back out, so that is positive,” he explains. The Dirty Bird has reopened for daily dine-in service and delivery (with upgraded takeout packaging) while maintaining strict cleaning measures.

“The community has been wonderful, and without them, we might not be around anymore,” says Quintas. “It’s heartwarming to see so many people supporting local businesses.”

TYPE Books

Joanne Saul and Samara Walbohm, co-founders of TYPE Books/TYPE Books

After Joanne Saul and Samara Walbohm met while completing their PhDs in Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto, they decided to open their own bookstore. The first TYPE Books location opened on Queen Street in 2006, and its success led to two others: one in Forest Hill Village and another in the Junction. The stores stock everything from contemporary fiction and non-fiction, to small press titles, art and design, and children’s books.

After almost 15 years in business, Saul and Walbohm still absolutely love what they do. However, they admit the past few months have been hugely challenging. They were forced to temporarily close all three locations, but they quickly pivoted to offer customers curbside pickup and delivery. With the support of the community, they’ve been able to reopen their stores seven days per week.

Seeing the community come together to help their business means everything to Saul and Walbohm. “It is truly the most rewarding aspect of having and growing a small business,” they share.

May Flowers

Annie Shuttin, founder of May Flowers/May Flowers

At 28 years old, after shifting gears in her career, Annie Shuttin opened May Flowers in Midtown Toronto. As an alternative to the traditional flower shop, Shuttin offers modern floral designs at affordable prices.

Since opening, she partnered with her sister to add a cafe and retail space to the shop, selling everything from coffee and baked goods, to plants, candles, and soaps in-store and online.

The lockdown earlier this year forced the entrepreneur to close the brick-and-mortar shop. Shuttin explains, “Although we were able to offer online orders for delivery only, we had to navigate through a huge disruption in our supply chain.”

May Flowers limited its offerings to “florist’s choice,” and it almost had a wedding-free summer — something that’s unheard of for a florist. The indoor seating at May Flowers’ coffee shop has also been removed to accommodate a smaller capacity.

“For the most part, we are still offering what we once had, but if you look into the finer details, we had to shift our focus a lot to keep going strong,” says Shuttin. “We’re so grateful for the amazing support and love that we get from the community.”

While small businesses are slowly reopening, they still need the public’s help to survive. Since June, the Shop Small program has allowed Amex Cardmembers to get $5 back in credits when they spend at least $10 at up to 10 different eligible small businesses.

This means Cardmembers can earn up to $50 in credits through the program while simultaneously supporting local businesses across Canada. The offer applies to purchases made online, in-store, or for curbside pickup.

To view participating businesses and for more details on full terms of the Shop Small offer, visit and follow the #ShopSmall hashtag on social media to stay connected.

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