Christmas market a lifeline amid pandemic struggles, say some small business owners

© Julie Debeljak/CBC Shoppers browse at the Noel Christmas Market in Calgary.

Shopping at the Noel Christmas Light Park and Market looks different this year.

But as one of the few indoor activities still happening in the city, some entrepreneurs say it’s been a lifeline during a time when business should be booming.

The market, held at Calgary’s BMO Centre, has implemented capacity limits, physical distancing, and strict sanitization and disinfection procedures. Instead of enjoying treats like mini donuts inside, shoppers must take them to-go. And, when entering the building, attendees go through a health questionnaire which includes having their temperatures taken. 

Manager Annette McArthur says the pandemic precautions haven’t dampened shoppers spirits. 

“They’re just happy to be able to get out of their house and go somewhere that is festive and fun and makes them forget, just even for a little while, that we’re in the middle of a health crisis,” she said. 

“You know, the significance of doing something like this during a pandemic … we’re hearing it right here on the floor when people are saying thank you, I needed this or my kids needed this.”

It’s lifted the spirits of vendors like Rachel Hatala, owner of Laughing Sparrow, too.

“I usually do 20 to 50 markets a year all across Canada and in the States. And with none of them happening, this has been a huge a huge relief to be able to be here and do this,” she said. “This year has been extremely difficult transferring everything online. Every single event that I had registered for, I applied for, got cancelled.”

Hatala, who sells handmade jewelry, said she’s seen a strong interest from people hoping to shop local.

“The response from customers has been amazing,” she said. 

“We’ve worked extra, extra hard to keep our doors open, to keep their opportunity open, right down to offering curbside pickup,” McArthur said. “Whatever it’s going to take to help them see those sales that very small and micro-businesses really need, especially at this time of year.”

Tickets to the market are sold in time slots to help shoppers distance.

The market will be open until Jan. 3.