Local business booster keeps the lights on, with a little help from some friends

Catherine Landry
Catherine Landry, owner of Call Betty! Marketing, SheShopsLocal.ca and organizer of the Ladies Who Lunch series, outside Ola Cocina Taqueria in Vanier. Photo by Caroline Phillips.

Dec. 27 can be one of those days that gets lost in the shuffle of Christmas holidays. Not so for Ottawa marketing specialist and event planner Catherine Landry. It was the day she was temporarily left homeless after an electrical fire broke out in her kitchen. She and her dog were running an errand at the time.

When word got out about the blaze, much like the feel-good ending in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, local residents and small business owners — including several prominent entrepreneurs – stepped forward with donations in support of an individual who’s done so much to help the community. 

For years, Landry has been one of Ottawa’s biggest boosters of business. Her mantra was “shop local” long before it became the focus of marketing campaigns everywhere.

Some 300 people helped Landry get back on her feet. 

“It was like having two oxygen tanks strapped onto my back and being told, ‘Wear these as long as you need them’,” Landry says of the suffocating stress she’s been under during the pandemic and people’s response to the fire.

She could finally breathe again.

The pandemic has not been kind to Landry and to her line of work. She felt ready to mentally check out after the fire forced her out of her rental home in the Glebe.

“I’ve always fought so hard for people who have nothing, people on the streets. I’ve been doing that for a long, long time. When I ask (marginalized) people, ‘How did it happen?’, they say, ‘Things accumulate, there was a series of tragedies, and I just gave up’. 

“People don’t understand; it’s like there’s an on and off switch. I get that even more now because I felt pretty close to that. During this current climate, this switch is very familiar to many of those who are self-employed. 

“You just can’t do it anymore. At any time in the past two years, specifically in the past month, I could have flipped that switch and given up.” 

Landry talked about her life and career during a dog walk around Beechwood Avenue. A friend has provided her with a place to live in the 'hood until her home is restored. The walk gave her an opportunity to promote such places as Red Door Provisions, Ola Cocina Taqueria,  Kelly’s Barber & Beauty and St. Charles Market.

Catherine Landry
Catherine Landry, owner of Call Betty! Marketing, SheShopsLocal.ca and organizer of the Ladies Who Lunch series, outside Ola Cocina Taqueria in Vanier with her dog Ruby. Photo by Caroline Phillips.

Landry is the owner of Call Betty! Marketing, SheShopsLocal.ca and the brains behind the business networking luncheon series Ladies Who Lunch. She’s had high-profile guests, including prime ministerial wives Laureen Harper and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, attend. 

Yet, her events aren’t about the who’s who. They’re more about meeting new people, not forming small cliques. 

Landry describes her favourite attendee as “that woman who maybe just started her business and maybe it’s six month old and she’s nervous and doesn’t know where she belongs but has the courage to buy a ticket. She comes to the event, starts chatting with people and then comes up to me at the end of it and says ‘Wow, thank you so much’.”

Landry has worked for 25 years in marketing and events, but not without first taking time to travel the world and try her hand at other jobs.

The graduate of St. Pius X High School put herself through Algonquin College. She worked for several years in group homes and institutions, helping adults with disabilities. She remains a champion for the underdog to this day.

"It’s about finding those little diamonds in the rough and working with them and seeing massive, crazy success."

She's worked as a bartender. That’s where she found her passion for connecting people and for raising the profile of unknown businesses through pop-up events. 

“It’s about finding those little diamonds in the rough and working with them and seeing massive, crazy success,” says Landry, who spends 20 to 30 hours each week promoting businesses on social media.

She’s also learned some lessons along the way, like when to shut up and listen.

“That advice changed my life, because I’m bossy and I’m kind of loud sometimes. It’s nice to just listen. Often, that’s what leads to real conversations.”

Landry admits that she was initially furious when she learned an online fundraiser had been created to assist her after the fire. She didn’t want to be seen as a charity case. As more and more people came out of the woodwork to help, she learned what it meant to receive.

“I was so grateful,” says Landry, who didn’t have contents insurance to replace her damaged or destroyed belongings.

“Instead of it being about what I lost, it became about what I gained. I had my dog, nobody got hurt and the house is still standing. I got a whole community report card on myself and it looks like I’m doing okay.”