Bright idea: Pandemic program to boost business continues on its merry way

The pandemic forced a lot of municipalities to find creative ways to support local businesses. Some of those programs were so successful that they’re continuing post-pandemic, including the Merry and Bright Christmas Box program in Smiths Falls.

“This program was such a resounding success it continues through this Christmas season,” said Shawn Pankow, mayor of Smiths Falls. “It makes shopping easy, supports local small businesses and continues to enhance our community pride with new and innovative methods to spread our brand.”

Smiths Falls, a community that’s had to re-invent itself more times than seems entirely fair, was just on the rise again when the pandemic slammed it, threatening the survival of many fledgling businesses.

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“We had seen numerous new businesses open in the past year or two and we recognized that the loss of revenue from a lockdown would be devastating to that community,” explained Pankow.

Although the town’s financial capacity to help was limited, Pankow said, the economic development team, with support from the chamber of commerce and downtown business association, came up with the Merry and Bright Christmas Box idea to warm customers up to the thought of curbside service and provide small businesses with some financial support and promotion. 

The program provides retailers with town-branded gift boxes complete with ribbons, a holiday card, a mug depicting famous Smiths Falls facades, and a branded ornament, along with town promotional materials. Then, retailers get to choose items from their stock that they want to add to the box at a variety of price points. Customers select the gift box and price point they want from a “menu” listing all participating retailers and their gift box offerings. All customers do is phone in their order and pick it up when it’s ready.

“I offer for women a leather cell phone purse, sweater necklace, scrunchies, a scarf and a $50 gift certificate. For men, I offer a leather belt, leather wallet, beanie or toque and a $50 gift certificate,” said Michele Baitley, owner of Michele’s Doorway to Splendour.  Boxes from her store are $150 each.

Some retailers collaborate with other local retailers to expand their box offerings.

“For example, this year we have 4 Degrees beer, naturally, and T-shirts from The Craft Witch and jerky and BBQ sauce from Valley Custom Cutting,” said Nick Ritchie, co-owner of 4 Degrees Brewing Company, which offers a $55 box and an $85 box.

The program is run at no cost to businesses, with the town providing and coordinating marketing. This year, 22 businesses signed up. One of the key lessons learned is that the program needs to start earlier to beat the seasonal rush.

“They really need to have the boxes available and ready to sell by at least the first of November,” said Baitley.

“We have to get started a little earlier on promoting the boxes and contents, say around Halloween, to ensure we have a good runway leading up to Christmas,” concurred Ritchie.

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