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Spirit and resilience during pandemic earns two Guelph businesses provincial recognition

Among more than a thousand nominees from across Ontario, The Bookshelf and the Northern Village are two of nine finalists in Meridian Credit Union’s Small Business Contest
The Bookshelf
The Bookshelf. Source: Facebook

They wouldn’t have made the list without touching some lives and now two Guelph businesses are being recognized for their actions during the pandemic.

A few months ago, Meridian Credit Union put out a call for community members to nominate businesses they felt demonstrated resilience, innovation, and community spirit throughout the pandemic which brought forth unprecedented challenges for everyone. 

With over 1,000 businesses nominated, The Bookshelf and the Northern Village are each one of nine finalists. The winner is expected to receive a $15,000 prize. 

“We're really happy. It is just the icing on the cake of two interesting years running a business through COVID and it's really nice. The fact that we were made it into the top nine is incredible and we're really happy,” said the Bookshelf’s president Ben Minett.

He said back in March 2020, staff at the Bookshelf like many businesses went through a period of stress where they tried to figure out how their business was going to survive amid restrictions. Ultimately, he said it came down to luck and community support. 

The business had just finished setting up its online business a week before the pandemic was declared. And as lockdown measures went up, so did the sales of their books. “It was fascinating,” said Minett. 

With customers passionate about supporting locals and a staff that stood by in hard times, Minett said the business is incredibly grateful for the support they’ve received.

“We just wanted to do the best job we possibly could to get books into the hands of readers,” said Minett. 

We thought to ourselves that there isn't a much better thing to occupy your mind than the book.”

Even though the eBar and the cinema shut down because of the pandemic, the sales from the books alone helped the building break even. 

Minett said keeping staff happy has been at the forefront of their business model and a recipe for success. 

“Let's say that they're having a bad week or something might go wrong. We’ll encourage them just to take a bit of time and we want to create a positive work environment for them. And also sort of share with them our successes as well,” said Minett. 

“We're really happy and the interesting thing about it is we reduced the hours that we were open. So we worked really hard when we were working.”

Northern Village founder Arni Mikelsons said for the web company, the business dried up when the pandemic hit and it took the opportunity to go into the software field. 

With the expertise of creating software, Mikelsons said it felt like it was the business’s responsibility to bring social good to the organizations around them.  

An example is Access2ID, a software service that enables social service organizations to recover ID. It began with a project Northern Village did in the streets of Toronto where they would help homeless people who don’t have an address, recover their ID. Soon they learned that organizations across Canada required such a software. If the Northern Village wins the prize, they plan on using the money to help launch Access2ID which will be used as a monthly subscription service for organizations to access as they please. 

“So it's like it's not only being in business for making money but also doing good in the world,” said Mikelsons adding that now the software side of the business has really picked up. 

He said becoming a finalist in a contest that saw over 1,000 entries gives him the assurance that his company actually made a difference. 


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Anam Khan

About the Author: Anam Khan

Anam Khan is a journalist who covers numerous beats in Guelph and Wellington County that include politics, crime, features, environment and social justice
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