Small businesses in Nanaimo are feeling the local love

As local businesses and organizations struggle with a COVID-19 Christmas, locals rally in support.

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We’ve been hearing small businesses and organizations in Nanaimo like the Legion have been struggling as the shutdown carries on through Christmas. Some community members have rallied and responded via social media, sharing stories of businesses and asking people to get out and support them.

Local nurse Louise Gilfoy noticed and shared a post in early December about her tenants Ma’an and Daa Alsaeed, Syrian refugees who run the O’falafel middle eastern food restaurant near the hospital on Boundary Crescent. As the post began to gain traction, eventually racking up more than 1300 shares, the restaurant got so busy (according to several commenters) they temporarily ran out of food.

“Because the possibilities of my restaurant are small, I cannot fulfill all requests. But people come back again,” said Daa Alsaeed via text. “Thanks Nanaimo.”

A community member posts a photo to Facebook about the lineup for Nanaimo's O'falafel.
“Yesterday we heard O’falafel needed a little bit of community lift. Today’s lineup suggests this City is awesome,” wrote Todd Gallant of Team Awesome Real Estate. Photo via Facebook.

With all of their events shut down, the all-volunteer Mount Benson branch of the Local 256 Legion have started selling home-cooked meals and food platters every two weeks to raise money for their local branch. 

“Who knew they did this?” wrote Barbara Joyce Densmore in a post about their trays of Christmas baking on the “What’s Up In The South End” community page on Facebook, adding, “Help keep them afloat.”

When I called the legion a couple of days later, secretary/treasurer Wendy Forth told me the post had made things go “absolutely crazy” and as a result they had been inundated with orders.

“We’ve got 75 platters ordered and we made enough for 20,” she said with a laugh. “So we’re going to be baking our little hearts out.”

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Nanaimo Legion 256 Lew Forth holds a platter of baked treats for their holiday fundraiser.
Lew Forth takes one of the platters of baked treats made by Legion 256’s “kitchen elves”. Photo via Facebook.
Nanaimo Legion volunteers prepare food for a Christmas fundraiser.
The Legion 256’s “kitchen elves” prepare treats at Kiwanis village. Photo via Facebook.

When Megan Hamlet heard her favourite local grocery store Superette was having a hard time she set up a Facebook group about a month ago called Superette Secrets, where members could share recipes and food photos.

The store is particularly special to many in Nanaimo because they carry affordable items near their expiry date that would otherwise end up in the landfill, feature produce from local farmers, and play a key part in the food security needs of residents, says Hamlet.

At first I thought it was going to be friends,” she said in a private message. “But then it just, like, blew up and it turned into people talking about their relationship with the store. How the Superette has kept them alive through tough times in the past, talking about food security and the imprint of waste.”

Now at 721 members, Hamlet said she was told by manager Shari Sorenson that it had effectively helped turn their COVID slump around.

Other posts featuring businesses like Departure Bay Pizza, the Bees Knees Cafe and local non-profit bookstore Well Read Books have also sprung up as residents rush to bridge the gap in sales before a potential easing of COVID-19 restrictions in January. [end]

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