By now, no one needs reminding that in the immediate wake of the COVID-19 lockdown, in those cold days of March and April, businesses across the city were compelled to adapt, or turn their business models on their heads, or invent new businesses entirely.
When OttawaMatters.com first profiled Burrow Shop in early May it was the entrepreneurial equivalent of something like a newborn giraffe: birthed on its feet, teaching itself to walk at the same time as it figured out survival for itself.
Patricia Larkin, co-owner of the local kombucha company Buchipop, had seen her own sales dry up almost overnight, but was able to leverage her connections with local food and beverage wholesalers to create Burrow Shop, an online farmer’s market that she and her small team were able to stand up in a hurry.
Fast forward -- it’s October now. The frenzied days of the pandemic seem to be mostly behind us, but are now replaced with the droning anxiety of the coronavirus’ second wave.
The panic-buying may have stopped, but as the country faces a long winter, the need for reliable food supply chains is as pressing as ever. And Burrow Shop, now seven-months-old, has made the shift from survival mode into thinking more about long-term sustainability and the role they can play in maintaining the local food economy.
“We’re in a better place,” Larkin says now. “It’s less of a panicked state now. […] I think it’s becoming more clear that this is something that could be sustainable longer-term. I certainly hope to keep it going. We’re super happy to be doing this.”
The online market, which draws products from many of the local farms and suppliers who have seen demand plummet as restrictions have been imposed on the restaurant industry, has grown substantially as well.
“Initially we were selling products from maybe eight or ten vendors,” Larkin says. “We’ve got to have around 60 now, and definitely over 500 products.”
The rhythm of the operation has stabilized somewhat. Gone are the frenzied weeks of 300 orders, and the shop has settled into a more comfortable weekly cadence — twice a week pickups, and regular deliveries to a stable, sustainable customer base.
“I think that this is going to be something that people don’t forget,” Larkin says. “The goal is to keep the supply chain shorter, to bring people quality goods and really showcase what Ottawa and Canada has."
“This has not been a flash in the pan,” she adds. “Who knows how much longer? I think that need is there, I think it’s going to grow, and even post-pandemic I think there are ways to keep things moving.”Six months from now, where will businesses like Burrow Shop find themselves? In eight months? Or what about in 18? Without anything approaching a reliable outlook, businesses are finding themselves needing, but unable, to plan for anything other than utter unpredictability.
Larkin and Burrow Shop are keenly aware of this, but are nevertheless hoping to keep the operation running.
Like so many businesses, they locate themselves somewhere along the path from temporary adaptation to permanent endeavours. The direction that path will take them remains pretty foggy. But the principles that are guiding people like Larkin can make for a workable north star.
As has been said about so many other things, the pandemic did not necessarily create those principles, but it did expose them and imbue them with a sense of local, civic responsibility. Few people anywhere can still say that supporting local producers is a mystery. The successful evolution of places like Burrow Shop has had a lot to do with that.
“It’s been so impactful on some people’s lives in so many different ways. At least, that’s my hope — that real change comes from it,” she adds. “Lots of people shop with us because there’s a real push to shop local. I think there’s a little bit more thought, for people, on where they’re spending their money.”