Sonya Perkins of Langley’s Forever Yours Lingerie said there’ve been challenges, but customers are supporting local shops during the pandemic. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Sonya Perkins of Langley’s Forever Yours Lingerie said there’ve been challenges, but customers are supporting local shops during the pandemic. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

‘Shop Local’ key as Langley businesses work through COVID

Business groups are trying to encourage local buying to keep stores alive

This will be a very different Black Friday at Langley’s Forever Yours Lingerie. The store is planning to keep its doors closed, but not because it won’t be selling to its customers.

“We’re actually going to be closed on Black Friday, and doing online only,” said owner Sonya Jenkins.

On Saturday and Sunday, Forever Yours will be open to appointments only.

It’s a big change for a retail clothing store, but its part of what local businesses have been doing to survive and keep supplying their customers safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s customers who have kept stores like Jenkins’s operating through nine tough months so far.

“Our customers have been, through this whole thing, really incredible, and have rallied around to support us,” said Jenkins.

People are still shopping there, whether in person, through curbside, or via the website.

“We’ve definitely got more of an online presence,” said Jenkins.

In fact, they’ve sen so much more online ordering, the store has had to hire another person to work in shipping, she said.

That’s in addition to all the other changes Forever Yours – and other Langley businesses – have had to make in the last few months.

Some of the struggles have been around getting everything stores need. There was a brief Plexiglas shortage in B.C. in the spring as thousands of retail stores bought panels to divide clerks from customers.

Sometimes the issues are trying to interpret new and frequently-changing provincial directives. Jenkins said they’re trying to be certain what they should be doing as retailers, but it’s not always clear.

Limits to the number of people allowed inside have led to the creation of appointments for customers, something that had never been on Forever Yours’ radar before.

But despite the challenges, Jenkins said the community is behind them.

“People are really rooting for small businesses, because it’s really tough for us right now,” she said.

Local business groups are working to remind shoppers of their local businesses even more right now, as Buy Local Week starts on Dec. 2.

The Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce is working with its partners on a major buy-local push.

“We’ve always been an advocate, and now it’ll be more important than ever,” said chamber CEO Colleen Clark.

“Look around at your favourite local business,” Clark said. “If you want them to be here on the back end of this, support them now.”

Fortunately, most local businesses have survived so far.

READ MORE: Few closures as Langley businesses battle COVID-19 downturn

“They’re not taking anything for granted, these business owners,” said Teri James, executive director of the Downtown Langley Business Association.

They’re giving time, energy, and creativity to keep afloat, she said.

For many businesses, it’s about surviving through a winter of higher COVID-19 numbers and greater restrictions on gatherings.

They are getting some help, including the new Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, which began allowing sign ups this week.

An earlier rental assistance program required landlords to sign up on behalf of their tenants, and was not widely used. Jenkins was not complimentary about that program, but said that for many of the businesses in Langley, the new program could be “a game changer.”

“I believe it’s going to be a huge deal,” said James.

The program is available to businesses that have suffered serious losses in business, and which have a lease signed before Oct. 9 of this year.

Restaurants, tourism operations, and now gyms, martial arts studios, and dance schools are all seeing greatly reduced capacity or a second mandatory shutdown right now.

Despite the pandemic-induced recession, Clark said she knew of people who are starting new businesses in Langley, or expanding a part-time side project into a full-blown home based enterprise.

“Entrepreneurial spirit will always win out,” she said.