Winnipeg business sinks to desperate measures in effort to stay afloat

Eco-friendly shop hosts liquidation sale in attempt to gain cash flow and raise awareness of pandemic-related hardship for small businesses.

Carmen Ponto

A shopper wearing a blue jacket and black mask browses nearly empty shelves in Winnipeg's Generation Green store. Half empty shelves sit in the foreground.

A shopper browses clearance items at Generation Green in Winnipeg. Stock is sparse after a liquidation sale cleared out items. Carmen Ponto/Kicker

WINNIPEG – A downtown Winnipeg shop held a liquidation sale last week in an act of desperation, hoping locals would get the message: Small businesses are struggling.

Sherry Sobey, owner of Generation Green, is a veteran small business owner who is well connected to other local businesses. Her nine-year-old store, an eco-friendly Winnipeg staple, has been struggling since the pandemic began.

She posted a plea to social media last week that advertised a liquidation sale of 40-50 per cent off. It said: “This is a tough one to post but I’m needing to be a little vulnerable . . . We are clinging to a life raft that is getting really difficult to hang onto.” 

The decision was a game-changer. The post went ‘Instagram viral’, with customers clearing the shelves over the next two days. Having had sales before, Sobey knew the success of the sale had nothing to do with the prices: Customers came because they didn’t want to lose the store.

Sobey said, by making her post, she was just voicing what business owners all over the city are feeling. “We’re not OK, and someone had to say it . . . I happen to have a big following, so let me say it loud.” 

Generation Green has always been a popular destination for those looking for a more ‘green’ way to live. Since 2012, Sobey has run the store selling eco-conscious bath and body products, gifts, and household items. Over 100 of these products come from local makers.

“We’re not OK, and someone had to say it…
I happen to have a big following, so let me say it loud.”

-Sherry Sobey, owner of Generation Green

In 2017, Sobey switched locations, from the Forks Market to Winnipeg’s Exchange District, attracting foot traffic from people working in the area. The newer space allowed Sobey to expand, adding a vegan cafe and a vegan cheese shop. Business thrived. Vegan foodies and eco conscious shoppers alike flocked to Generation Green. 

Everything changed in March 2020. 

The pandemic hit, and people started working from home. Shutdowns in the first and second waves of the pandemic forced Sobey to close shop and lay off all her staff. The festivals that normally flooded ‘the Exchange’, as the area is dubbed by Winnipeggers, were cancelled. The Exchange, once a hub of cultural activity, grew quiet.

As restrictions continued to ebb and flow, Sobey had to adjust the way she did business, offering curbside pick up and free delivery for orders over $75. She learned to make the store’s vegan cheese herself, via video with one of her staff.

“I did all the things,” Sobey said. “I burnt out big time from it. It was not enjoyable and it was not rewarding in the least.” 

Sales dropped 50 per cent, inching up only slightly when restrictions eased. The provincial grants and a loan from the federal government helped for a while, Sobey said. But even once she was allowed to open at full capacity, it was too late. The customers stayed away. 

Krystle Pagkalinawan, owner of Plant Lab Botanical, has only ever run her business in a pandemic. She says it’s impossible to know how the store will do when things are back to normal. Carmen Ponto/Kicker

Another Exchange District business is facing the same struggles. Krystle Pagkalinawan, owner of Plant Lab Botanical Design, started business planning in January 2020. She opened her shop in May 2021, when the opportunity arose to take over a coveted storefront on Albert Street.

The shop sells plants, jewelry and self-care items. It teaches and promotes plant care as a form of self-care, which Pagkalinawan feels is a crucial element to people’s mental health, especially now.

A bandaid solution to a deeper problem

Pagkalinawan is only making enough money to keep her business afloat. She is thankful that she has a partner who makes enough money to cover her personal expenses. 

Despite the success of Generation Green’s sale, Sobey made it clear the cash earned won’t actually make it into her own pocket. It will simply cover the bills over the next few months – the pared-down staff, rent of the building, and products to stock the store. 

She says her own salary is a bonus.

Both Sobey and Pagkalinawan stress nothing will change unless people start recognizing the importance of shopping local in times like these. They agree that unlike big corporations, businesses like theirs are the lifeblood of the community.

“We’re the ones down the street from you,” Pagkalinawan said. “For a lot of us it’s our primary source of income, and pays our bills, feeds our families.” 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.