A single mom from Port Moody laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic has launched an online Christmas market to help support over 100 small businesses across the Tri-Cities and Canada.
Before the pandemic, Ivana Petrovic worked as an account manager for corporate travel. But by April, as airlines across the world scrambled for a lack of passengers, Petrovic became one of the millions of Canadians out of work.
“With COVID and everything, it made me realize you have to have different sources of income,” she said. “I lost my job and I was left with nothing.”
The single mom was used to hustling. Outside of her day job, Petrovic ran a small business consulting company, as well as an online store where she would sell skincare products and home decor.
“Once COVID started, my sales went down significantly. I had to shut it down,” she said.
At the same time, Petrovic wanted to make a difference, she also thought about how much the pandemic had taken away.
Growing up in Croatia, Christmas markets were an annual tradition, and so she was heartened as, every year, they gained more popularity in Metro Vancouver.
But as the financial fallout from COVID-19 bled into the fall, she thought about how much she’d miss the annual tradition.
“We don’t even know if we’re going to have Christmas this year. We don’t know if we’re going to see friends and family,” she said, pointing to the familial networks that keep many home-based businesses going.
Lost, Petrovic reached out to the 800-plus members of a Facebook support group she had started for female small-business owners from across Canada. She kept hearing the same stories over and over: businesses forced to shut down or on the brink of closure.
“Everyone was worried. Stores were closing,” she said. “You see a lot of despair. I was trying to wrap my head around it.”
That’s when she floated the idea of a virtual Christmas market. Everyone jumped at the idea.
Petrovic has since tapped small business groups from across British Columbia to spread the word, including brick-and-mortar shops in the Tri-Cities. Dubbed the Canadian Online Christmas Market on Facebook, registration is open to all Canadian small businesses, though many are local to the Tri-Cities.
Set to begin from Oct. 1, registration technically closed Sept. 20, but Petrovic said she’s willing to sign up any vendor before it begins.
“I’m basically trying not to say 'no' to anything,” she said, noting there’s a $15 fee for vendors, which goes towards social media advertising to promote the market.
Any leftover money will be donated to the charity Mamas for Mamas, a national non-profit based out of Kelowna that helps mothers, caregivers and families in need.
By holding it earlier in the year, Petrovic said she’s looking to help people get rid of their piled-up inventory and to get them in the black the same way Black Friday was originally designed to do in the lead up to Christmas.
So far, a variety of small businesses have signed up, from cottage industry jewellers and soap makers to artists and photographers selling their pieces and services. There’s even a Port Moody yoga studio offering online lessons combined with professional counselling services.
“People are being really creative. They have to,” she said. “These people really need this to finish the year to make some money for Christmas.”
“But also, it’s about trying to stay safe.”
• The Canadian Online Christmas Market will run from Oct. 1 to Dec. 23.