SAULT STE. MARIE -- The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce is encouraging "hyper-local" shopping as many stores face uncertainty through the latest COVID-19 related lockdown.

Chamber CEO, Rory Ring, said the new "buy local, or say goodbye local" campaign asks consumers to find ways to shop at small-to-medium sized businesses, rather than big box stores, especially as we enter what's historically a slow time for shopping.

"There's a tremendous amount of pressure for cash flow on small businesses that really rely on the Christmas season for a significant amount of revenue generation," Ring said.

"Whether you're buying gift certificates, takeout orders or using curb-side, it's especially more important to shop local."

Ring said consumers and businesses should look to utilize the Algoma Marketplace, an online site that allows stores to sell their product, as a means to effectively support business through the lockdown.

Still, he said he's disappointed many stores weren't allowed to remain open in a reduced capacity, like other big-box stores.

"When we look at it, we say ‘why can't a small business stay open like a Walmart, using the same capacity rules?’ 25% capacity," he said.

"They can do the contact tracing and easily manage who is in the store, rather than a bigger store where there's very little contact tracing."

Ring is also encouraging more stores to invest heavily in their digital footprints throughout 2021, envisioning that retail is heading far more virtual than ever before.

"That's not just about having a retail storefront, it's managing your inventory, it's managing your Human Resources, it's managing other operations," he said.

"It's also an integral part in ensuring that you can tap into markets from around the world."

The Stork & Bundle, a downtown children's and baby boutique in the Sault, has been operating an e-commerce site over the last five years.

Its owner says it's certainly helped maintain momentum since the initial shutdown in March, but the store has still taken a hit in sales.

"It's not something we're happy about," said Kristi Cistaro.

"But we're optimistic we're going to be able to keep the momentum going right now."

Cistaro, who sits on the Downtown Association's Board of Directors, said many other businesses have been forced to get creative in how they generate revenue.

However, she said she believes now is the best time to transition online, especially for those who have no presence at all in the virtual realm.

"It's something that the costs have come down for, it's something that's far more accessible for businesses," she said.

"Truth be told, it's also something that consumers are really expecting now."

Last month, the Sault Chamber of Commerce called for extra rent subsidies for small businesses in border cities, to compensate for lost revenue from the Canadian-U.S. border shutdown.

So far, Ring said he's disappointed it hasn't gained traction.