Federal and provincial orders at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 required numerous businesses to shutter their brick and mortar storefronts, and for many others to put their products and services on hiatus. Local resident Jeffrey Pereira was immediately concerned for local businesses – and he and fellow Miltonian Paula Rousselle quickly founded the Facebook Group “#miltonstrong – Support for your local businesses” on March 19.
Pereira is a Sales Manager for a local PPE safety company and also provides DJ and event services through his own small company Pocket Square Affair Events and Rousselle works for the Town of Milton. The Facebook group was developed as a way to officialize Pereira’s own practice of highlighting local businesses on his personal Facebook page. After the new social distancing mandates went into effect, Rousselle saw a need to support friends and family who were entrepreneurs. “Milton Strong was developed to have a forum to support small businesses in our town and to help local businesses promote, communicate, and continue to make sales in any capacity they could. It was also a way for us to introduce new businesses around town that the resident may have not have heard of.” The businesses themselves have also utilized the group to update the community on altered menus or new service hours.
The size of the Facebook group grew quickly to its current membership of over 7000 people. The passion to support local is evident in the way Miltonians flocked to the group to share positive reviews and ask for recommendations. Negativity is discouraged and no joy is too small to share. Member Annick Jung wrote “For Bubble Tea lovers, it is sold at Pho’s!!! #MiltonStrong,” and JM Torelli posted “Best carrot cake in town by Hillary’s!!!! Absolutely delicious!” Posts are always accompanied by tempting photographs. When they reopened their patio, EddieO’s PourHouse & Kitchen received numerous accolades for their strong return to service. Member Kylie Lauren wrote “I just wanted to send a huge thank you to @EddieO’s PourHouse & Kitchen. I went the other night and the service was wonderful. Our server was great. The atmosphere was cozy and we felt comfortable and safe.”
The commitment to loyalty is fiercely protected. Group member Ian McMaster posted “If you have a local referral or referrals drop them on these posts. I think we should keep #MiltonStrong here.” Jeffrey Pereira describes why people are so drawn to the group and its mission: “I think we live in a unique town where even as we grow larger, the people of this town still want to maintain that small-town feel that drew us here in the first place.”
The collective has even grown beyond its original Facebook group iteration as members purchase and display physical #MiltonStrong lawn signs. Ground founders have also begun to develop fundraising initiatives – the sale of #MiltonStrong t-shirts supported local makers and raised funds for The Milton District Hospital. Over $8000 was raised to contribute to the purchase of essential equipment required by the Hospital. Additionally, the development of a related website which features a directory of locally owned Milton businesses is also in the works.
#MiltonStrong has also created connections, like the partnership developed by J&D Tire and Modo Yoga Milton who came together to use the 3D printer resources they had to create face shields for local medical staff and businesses that opened up as the province entered Stage 2.
Rousselle and Periera are hoping to use the group and website to continue to introduce and help build the small business community. From Pereira, “People genuinely want to help and be part of this movement to help Milton thrive now, and beyond COVID. This town will continue to get stronger and stronger because we are… #MiltonStrong”