One doesn’t have to look far to see why residents and visitors alike hold Mississauga’s Port Credit neighbourhood so dear to their hearts. Port Credit has its own special spark. It’s a neighbourhood where people tend to know one another and stop into its independent shops, oftentimes just to chat.
The pandemic has resulted in a lot of these beloved businesses temporarily or permanently closing down, leaving papered-over windows, “for lease” signs, and empty properties behind on the community’s main strip. Ambiguous mandates and constant teetering between red and grey COVID-19 zones has left many business owners struggling to remain afloat.
According to a recent report released by the Business Development Bank of Canada, 39 per cent of business owners reported feeling depressed at least once a week. Financial factors were the most likely source of stress for business owners, with economic recession sitting at 58 per cent, and financial cash flow at 53 per cent.
That’s why a group of Port Credit residents is stepping up. Val Dawson-Hale, Rick Hale, and Cindy Wilding created a GoFundMe page on Dec. 3, 2020, to help struggling businesses and keep Port Credit thriving. Their goal is to raise $200,000 and equally distribute this money to businesses that request financial assistance. They’ve reached about $8,000 so far.
Watch how residents are working to save Port Credit’s businesses:
With their fundraiser, they’re striving to help small, independent brick-and-mortar businesses impacted by the shutdowns. They are, however, willing to look at requests for financial assistance from businesses that don’t fall under these requirements if the need is there.
“We can’t let any of them disappear,” says Dawson-Hale, a retired registered nurse. “The success of one is the success of all of them.”
The trio sent out emails to every business in the area and hand-delivered letters to businesses they couldn’t otherwise reach. They also designed posters with QR codes that allow easy access to the GoFundMe that are displayed in many storefronts.
When deciding on a goal, they settled on $200,000 because there are over 200 businesses in Port Credit. They knew the goal had to be relatively high in order for each affected business to receive a sizable donation that’ll make a difference. When put in perspective, if all businesses applied, that would be $1,000 per business.
“We’re not going to wait until we have the full $200,000,” says Dawson-Hale. “A lot of them need help now.”
Business owners have responded to pandemic restrictions with unique solutions to navigate obstacles by setting up takeout and delivery, curbside pickup, FaceTime appointments, singular in-person appointments, creating new websites, and more.
“I just want people to remember that if these businesses go down, it doesn’t just affect the businesses and main street,” said Wilding. “It affects the neighbourhood.”
Tony Pampena, owner of Fired Up!, owns one of many businesses that have had to remain closed during the pandemic. As a family-owned restaurant, he’s had to miss weekends, major holidays and event opportunities.
“You meet a bunch of different people and you hear different stories,” he said. “We’ve had individuals that have met here, had their engagement here, and then ultimately had their wedding here.”
These are the heartfelt connections that are trying to be saved with the GoFundMe.
Many business owners are currently having to pay for their losses out of pocket, which means they’re cutting into personal savings that they were relying on being secure.
“Out of pocket, you’re shelling out $3,000 to $6,000 a month being closed,” Pampena said. “You’re just hoping for better days.”
Rhe GoFundMe’s team members began distributing funds of $500 to each business that has requested assistance as of March 23.
Beyond emailing potential corporate donors and government officials, reaching out to the Port Credit Business Improvement Association, contacting news outlets, and continuously posting on social media, the team of three have found ways to make their initiative more fun.
Wilding, the face of Trash Walking Moms, pledges to pick up a bucket of trash for every minimum donation of $25 made towards the GoFundMe, providing an incentive to increase donations and simultaneously helping the environment. She’s on the hook for filling more than 20 buckets.
“It’s something I would be doing anyways, so I just thought I’d attach that [incentive],” said Wilding. “Because it forces me to get out too.”
Peel Chrysler donated $1,000 to the initiative. A real estate agency, The Peterson Team, also came across Dawson-Hale’s post online and joined in a special way. For any listings sold in the L5G postal code area (Port Credit and Mineola) in 2021, they donate five per cent of the commissions.
“We’re one of the fortunate industries where business went up because more people than ever are looking to make housing changes because of the pandemic,” said Kate Peterson. “We’ve been given this extra opportunity right now — I feel a social responsibility to pay that back.”
To stir up some commotion, Hale has created a Facebook posting online in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Hale and his wife, Dawson-Hale, had given each other some gift cards to support local businesses in the area this past Christmas. In the spirit of the “pay it forward” movement, he gave away a $50 gift card to The Brogue, a popular restaurant in Port Credit. The rules? You simply need to donate any amount you can to the GoFundMe, and you’re entered into the draw.
He created a similar contest following this one.
His post reads, “Starting March 5 until March 12, for every registered donation, I will put your name in the draw for a $50 gift card to THE BROGUE to help you celebrate St. Paddy’s Day.”
Another contest follows this one: a $50 gift certificate to Impressionable Gifts, and the same rules apply.
“Every one of those businesses has a family, and there’s a family behind every one of them,” says Dawson-Hale. “And they all sit around their kitchen table at night and worry, and try not to pass that onto their families.”