St. Stephen – Many people thought with the Canada/US borders being closed due to COVID-19, many local businesses would not be able to stay afloat. While many businesses were required to close their doors for several weeks, some that were deemed to be essential services were able to remain open, including Harper’s Exotic Animals & Pet Supply, which has been nominated for The Saint Croix Courier’s Shine On award. This award was created for businesses that have gone above and beyond during this time of crisis.
Owner Doug Harper said he has been taking extra precautions when it comes to cleanliness, and there are certain protocols that have to be followed by customers coming into the store. Currently, there is a five-person limit in the store. If there are more than five people inside, they have to wear face masks. Harper said the five-person limit allows people to not wear masks, and if there are more people, they will have to wait outside until other customers leave.
“We’re spending a lot of money on sanitation and cleanliness,” said Harper. “We’re doing our best to abide by all the rules and regulations and still keep functioning. When you come in the door, we ask if you’ve been out of the province. As soon as customers come into the store, they have to sanitize their hands and answer a little questionnaire.”
Harper said while some aspects of his business have changed, he has actually been seeing an influx of customers who are unable to cross the border to get their pet food. Part of his business is selling pet supplies, and the other is taking reptiles to various homes and businesses for birthday parties, which he can’t do at this time. But, what he has lost in birthday party revenue, he has made up for with increased sales in the store.
“We haven’t been able to do any birthday parties yet or anything, and it’s not looking like that will be up and running until December,” said Harper. “Our sales have been awesome. We lost about $8,000 in revenues from birthday parties. But for the store front, the border closure has been nothing but good for us. Our sales have doubled in the store. People don’t want to travel to Saint John and Fredericton where there are cases, so it’s brought such a broad new spectrum of people into my store who haven’t graced my doors because of a fear of reptiles.”
Harper said he has not had volunteers in the store as he has had in the past, due to parents not wanting their kids to be out volunteering at this time. He said it has been very draining to have to do most of the work by himself. His wife, Tara, had been helping, but now that she is back to work he is on his own. But, he did manage to keep one volunteer who has been with him since the beginning, Rylan Scribner, and he recently hired Scribner to work about 15 hours per week.
“I’ve been manning the fort myself here, 80 plus hours a week trying to run a business myself,” said Harper. “He’s not in school and I needed somebody so I brought him up from volunteering to being an actual employee. He’s been with me right from the start as one of my volunteers. He’s 16 this year, so I’ve hired him and am teaching him cash and stuff so I can actually have a lunch or a break when I need to. He’s only working five hours, three days a week, but it’s been a big help.”
Harper said he wants to thank the customers that nominated his business for the Shine On award. He feels that if it weren’t for customer support, he would have had to close his doors weeks ago.
“We were fortunate in being able to stay open. The revenue is there, and I’d like to thank our customers for supporting us and nominating us. If it wasn’t for the clients who nominated us, we wouldn’t be here to be nominated.”