Halifax’s first zero-waste store, The Tare Shop, opened in early October 2018 at 5539 Cornwallis Street in Halifax's north end. Forging ahead at full steam with the support of Halifax’s eco-conscious oceanside inhabitants, The Tare Shop opened its second location, a downtown Dartmouth branch at 21 Portland Street, in January 2021.
Then came the worldwide glass shortage—a delayed impact of COVID-19. For a store where everything is displayed in large, perfectly-aligned clear containers, it meant problems.
“We only got in 100 jars so we could only bring in 100 products instead of the 500 we were planning to,” says owner Kate Pepler. “So when we opened the Dartmouth store, the shelves were very empty.”
After that setback, Nova Scotia plunged into its longest period of lockdown to date in spring 2021, lasting from March to June. “Both stores really really felt the impacts of that,” Pepler says. Supply chain issues caught up to the store at the same time. “We started having issues getting material or getting products,” including items like shampoo and detergents, sunflower seeds and spices.
As shoppers were restricted to one-person-per-household and told not to go out unless necessary, niche businesses saw fewer people coming through the doors. Instead, they headed to big-box stores with one-stop shopping. “We weren't getting people walking to work and getting a coffee or stopping by on the way home to do their grocery shopping,” says Pepler.
And even though it was proven early on in the pandemic that clean reusable containers don’t increase COVID risk, “people's perception of using containers and reusing stuff has changed,” Pepler thinks. Then there are the routines that the disease disrupted. “People who were in the habit of only getting a coffee or tea when they have their travel mug are now out of the habit—because you couldn’t for so long.”
Over the course of the year, things didn’t improve. Pepler was struggling to keep the two stores open and her staff employed. “For a long time I’ve just been carrying the burden of stress myself,” she says. It finally culminated in a call with her mentor, another female business owner, who reminded Pepler that “this is a store for the community” and it’s okay to ask that community for help.
So on May 9, The Tare Shop announced a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. The goal is $40,000, and in just one week is already 90 percent achieved. Donations so far have ranged from $10 up to $1,000, with “perks” for donations including thank-you cards and invites to events.
Plus donors get purchasing power. As the campaign page says, "whether you contribute $10 or $100, you’ll receive a Tare Shop gift card equal to the amount of your donation. And the gift card can be used either online or in one of our stores. So ultimately it’s a no-cost way to help us continue serving our larger community."
Pepler says she chose the community donation route over approaching private investors. So far, almost 450 individuals have donated, with an average amount of about $84 per person.
She didn’t expect the fundraiser to spread so quickly and successfully. “It’s been really amazing, I’m speechless and blown away by the support.” But Pepler is glad to have the community behind her, whether it’s returning long-time customers or new faces entering the shop for the first time.