Albertans are lauded for their entrepreneurial spirit and can-do attitude, and Calgarian Rhyan Pietromonaco exhibits these traits as well as anyone. The group fitness instructor has seen that industry hammered by the global pandemic, with gyms in his city closed, re-opened and closed again, and programs cancelled or cut back. The future is anything but clear.
Because he' seen the same impact on small business around the city, Pietromonaco wanted to do something about it. That's how ProudLocalYYC came to be: a member-based community of local small businesses with the goal of helping businesses in the short-term and, over time, creating a greater awareness on the importance of shopping local.
“I have friends and family that have small businesses--many have had to close their doors and a lot have lost their dreams too," said Pietromonaco. "If you go up and down some streets in Calgary, you’ll see signs of businesses that are closed temporarily or shut for good. I wanted to draw attention to local businesses, to help change people’s habits to support local and ultimately just build a community.”
ProudLocalYYC features a website – yyc.proudlocal.ca – and an Instagram account where Pietromonaco showcases the various small businesses who have become members. As of mid-February, the community includes over 70 local companies in the artisanal, food and beverage, fitness, entertainment, clothing
and wellness industries. Business owners can join for free, getting stickers and signs to post in their store fronts to promote the awareness campaign.
On the consumer side, Calgarians can join for a nominal fee and get access to deals at member companies. There’s buy-one-get-one offers, themed boxes, and other perks.
Any efforts are urgently needed. The province reports that small businesses make up almost 95 per cent of all businesses in Alberta, employing nearly 500,000 people. Yet, numbers from a January 2021 Canadian Federation of Independent Business report show more Alberta businesses are at risk of closing permanently than anywhere else in the country.
The independent store 17th Avenue Framing has been part of Nicole Drouin’s family since 1999, when her father Bernard bought the business. Nicole – who works full-time in human resources in corporate Calgary and is a Jill-of-all-trades at the framing store – grew up at the shop on Calgary’s Red Mile. She said she's seen many ups and downs over two decades but nothing like the past year.
“The biggest challenge was when we had to shut down and let staff know we were no longer able to have them come to work," she said. "We own the building, but at the same time we lost our upstairs tenant. That guaranteed revenue went away too."
“There are so many local companies we should be supporting,” said Drouin of Pietromonaco's ProudLocalYYC movement. “It’s awesome that he’s starting this company to help do that, and to give some perks to the people who give us business. If we don't have the local economy going, we're nothing as a city."
Pietromonaco said he's excited to see the growth of the ProudLocalYYC movement, which only started in January. The busy entrepreneur has been refining his website and Instagram accounts and said he's already getting a lot of positive feedback.
“How do you create meaning behind local?” said Pietromonaco of the name ProudLocalYYC. “If members can say they’re a proud local business and people who shop can say that they’re a proud local business supporter, it brings a little bit of joy."