Love of community has sprung Nick Milum and Derek Liu into action ahead of the holiday season with a special project to support independent retailers in Toronto’s west-end. 

“I think local businesses are a big part of the fabric of a community. And if we start to lose that fabric, the community feel is going to be lost as well,” Milum said.

“I bike a ton throughout the city and seeing a lot of shops go for lease, and places I frequented before go for lease, it hurts,” Liu added.

Milum is a financial analyst and Liu is a health care worker. Both are west Toronto residents and the founders of Bag of Toronto, a campaign aimed at supporting local businesses that have struggled throughout the pandemic. 

For $60, people can buy a curated bag of goods from one of five different neighbourhoods: Bloordale, Queen West, Bloorcourt, Ossington or College Promenade. 

First, the shopper selects the neighbourgood they want to support. Milum and Liu then fill each bag with up to eight different surprise products, either food, self- care, fashion or gift items from that area.

The local business improvement areas (BIAs) are supporting Milum and Liu, who are volunteering their time by providing the set-up costs and supplies.

The pair plans to personally deliver a majority of the orders before Christmas.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said 70 per cent of businesses in Toronto have seen a further drop in sales as a result of, or fear of, the second wave of COVID-19. 

The group estimates that one in seven independent retailers are at risk of closing before the end of the pandemic and found Canadians plan to spend two-thirds of their holiday budgets at big businesses. 

“Ideally we’re going to be able to redirect revenue to these local businesses,” said Milum. 

Filosophy Pastry and Espresso Bar is one of the Bloorcourt businesses taking part, offering up items like Mediterranean treats such as olive oil and honey.

Owner Toula Bekiaris said even though the Greek-fusion cafe has been open during the pandemic its still struggling to make a profit and Bag of Toronto is part of the economic recovery.

“We open every day to put food on the table for our small family and having customers appreciate that and just take the time to order ... It means everything to the small business that are trying to keep the lights on,” Bekiaris said. 

Milum and Liu hope to sell 500 bags and said a portion from each sale will go to a local charity in the neighbourhood where the products originate.