Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

 

The Canadian tourism sector has experienced a brisk recovery since the initial pandemic lockdowns, according to economic experts. But that recovery pace has been easing due to higher interest rates, a slowing job market, and broader cyclical slowdown in the U.S. and abroad. In Ontario, many tourism operators continue to face a great deal of debt caused by the pandemic, prompting many to worry about what the future holds. 

 

Locally, tourism in 2024 is expected to continue to do well, despite the ‘economic crunch’ that may prompt travelers to adjust their plans in the coming year. 

 

We reached out to Explore Waterloo CEO Michele Saran to get her take on what the local tourism sector can expect in the New Year:

 

 

How is local tourism shaping up for 2024, considering the economic realities many people are dealing with?

 

Tourism in Waterloo Region is expected to continue doing well into 2024.  We are beating 2019 pre-pandemic; hotel occupancy numbers and campaigns are driving keen interest in our offerings.  Yes, the economic crunch is impacting everyone and may result in visitors spending a bit less but not completely abandoning all vacation plans.  People consider travel a priority and have been shown to spend less in other discretionary areas to afford some kind of getaway with family and friends. Waterloo Region’s main market is the GTA, and we really lean into the concept of being the perfect road trip destination.  This type of travel can be as budget conscious as one wishes.  There are so many affordable options for fun.

 

 

Are local tourism operators feeling optimistic about what is in store for 2024?

 

The operators I speak with are all quite optimistic about a strong 2024, despite concerns around inflation and its impact on visitor spending.  In addition to leisure travel, we are also seeing incredible interest in the region for meetings, conventions, and sporting events.  The tourism industry is nothing if not resilient. Having come out on the other side of a worldwide pandemic that shut everything down completely, we now have the gift of perspective.  

 

 

What are some of the hurdles do local tourism operators face in the coming year?

 

One of the biggest challenges facing tourism operators everywhere (not just in Waterloo Region) is rebuilding the workforce.  Hospitality workers left the industry during the pandemic, and many did not return.  Industry advocacy organizations are working to address this issue from many angles, from working with government to ease immigration barriers to marketing the industry to students as a career choice. Finding affordable housing is a big hurdle for those in the service sector.  Many of the destinations that are the most popular with visitors are also very expensive places to live.  People want to live in the same area where they work, and this presents another labour-related challenge for the tourism industry as well as many others.

 

Despite optimism for next year’s visitation potential, a very significant issue is the amount of debt tourism businesses incurred during the pandemic just to stay afloat and survive.  According to the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, 55% of operators say they lack confidence they will be able to repay their debts in two years and 45% risk closure in three years without government intervention.  Thirty-three percent of tourism businesses indicate that they hold more than 250K in outstanding debt. This is a serious issue and one all tourism advocacy organizations continue to push with government for solutions.

 

 

Is talk of the pandemic a thing of the past?

 

I recently returned from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s Annual Tourism Congress.  The conversation was around the legacy effects of COVID cited above but I think the entire industry is ready to put the pandemic itself in the rearview mirror and focus on what we do best – welcoming visitors and showing them why our area is fantastic.   

 

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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce handed out the hardware recently recognizing the achievements of the local business community.

 

The awards were presented in front of a sold-out crowd of approximately 360 business leaders and Cambridge/Township of North Dumfries officials at Tapestry Hall on Thursday, May 18.

 

“This event is such an important one for the Chamber because it gives us the opportunity to honour some of the amazing work our local business leaders have accomplished in the last year,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.

 

The Business Excellence Awards is the Chamber’s premier event and has honoured the contributions and achievements of business leaders in the City of Cambridge and Township of North Dumfries since 2000, and features 11 award categories, nine of whom require nominations. In total, nearly 70 nominations were received.

 

Among these awards are Outstanding Workplace, Business of the Year, and New Business Venture of the Year which is aimed at both new and existing businesses.

 

“The awards event itself at Tapestry Hall also provides the perfect setting for business leaders to connect and reconnect, which only strengthens our community,” says Greg.

 

 

2023 BUSINESS EXCELLENCE AWARDS recipients

 

 

Business of the Year 1-10 employees award winner: Sousa Bookkeeping & Taxes

 

Being a good corporate citizen is anything but a chore for this award recipient, and in fact, quite the opposite holds true. When it comes to giving back to not only the community, but also its employees by creating a safe zone for everyone and rewarding them with nights on the town and bonuses, this company revels in the opportunity to help others and is always happy to show its appreciation for the support it has received. From donating to local food banks and Cambridge Memorial Hospital, to providing free and reduced rate tax services to low-income individuals and seniors – even offering free pickup and drop-off services - this company firmly believes community should always matter first.

 

Business of the Year 11-49 employees award winner: Central Industrial Solutions

 

The recipient of this award has developed a very diverse and loyal customer base thanks to its long-time commitment for providing the best service possible. This includes sometimes offering clients the least expensive option available because its highly motivated staff recognizes that it may be the best choice. This honest approach has built a foundation of trust among this company’s customers, many who have been loyal patrons for 20 years. Service remains a key priority for this company, which unlike many of its competitors, provides its clients with custom designs and a guarantee that their project will not fail to meet their expectations. Their commitment to loyalty also extends to their staff, whom they provide competitive wages and benefits, plus team-building perks to create a friendly and productive workplace environment.

 

 

Business of the Year 50 employees & over award winner: Gaslight Events Company Inc.

 

Big, bold, and innovative are just a few words that best describe the recipient of this award. During a time of great uncertainty, this company has continually experienced massive growth by sticking to its goal of being the best at what it does. It’s ability to adapt and grow, while staying true to its mission of creating a unique events space that celebrates and blends the local arts and the community, have remained paramount. In a short time, this company has quickly established itself as an important part of the community, which is especially apparent when crowds gather in Tapestry Hall under the breathtaking living piece of architecture known as ‘Meander’, or dine together in its new Foundry Tavern Restaurant, or share a pint in its Tap Room. While supporting local remains key for this female-owned company, supporting its growing staff is just as important which is why its female-led executive team has taken great strides to create an exclusive and supportive workspace.

 

 

Outstanding Workplace – Employer of the Year Award: Pur Balance Massage & Facial Spa

 

When it comes to creating a welcoming and supportive workplace, this company goes that extra mile to ensure its employees are presented with every opportunity available to succeed and flourish. Besides offering healthy compensation and bonus packages to reflect the current economic times, this organization continually seeks to support staff by fostering autonomy, providing flexible work schedules, interest-free loans, and additional training. This is a company that wants its staff to succeed both financially and intellectually and offers an array of supports and opportunities to make that happen. It’s a female-driven company that is committed to not only building and retaining a diverse workforce through mentorship, but by promoting a healthy and positive workplace through team-building events. Whether it’s enjoying each other’s company during a night out on the town or sharing clothing their children have outgrown with co-workers who have younger kids, the staff at this company know they are part of a very close-knit family who are more than willing to lend a hand to assist a colleague when needed. Besides building a foundation of camaraderie, this has also created a work environment where achievements and successes are celebrated among team members.

 

 

Marketing Excellence Award: Downtown Cambridge BIA

 

Using a very focused approach helped this award recipient attain some amazing goals in the past year. Thanks to some very captivating short-form video features that played well on Instagram Reels, filled with stunning visuals and narratives, this organization successfully promoted downtown businesses, events, openings, and campaigns to a much broader audience. Balancing this success by using other digital platforms, including Facebook and its website, as well as traditional media releases, allowed this company to experience substantial reach to bolster its message that downtown Cambridge is a very vibrant destination filled with attractions, among them a new outdoor gallery called The Galtway. In 2022 alone, this organization produced 55 Instagram Reels videos that garnered over 353,000 views, plus another 28,000 views on Facebook. This strategy, which resulted in a more than 30% increase in Instagram followers – many of them women – helped further their goal to shine a spotlight on all the great things that our downtown businesses have to offer.

 

 

Spirit of Cambridge award winner: Fibernetics Corporation

 

Helping to create an even better community is very important to the recipient of this award.

Through its unwavering support of several local initiatives, this company is creating a solid foundation for the next generation of residents to succeed and prosper, while at the same time demonstrating extraordinary community leadership. Among its ongoing commitments is a successful partnership with Food4Kids, a program that is near and dear to the hearts of its employees. In the past year alone, it donated just over $12,000 to this organization to assist in its efforts to provide students in more than 20 Cambridge schools with nutritious snacks – driving home the point that no child should go to school hungry. This past December, this company even matched its employees’ fundraising efforts dollar to dollar and donated more than $4,300 to the cause. It also supports a secondary initiative created by one of its own employees called Coffee4Kids to further benefit Food4Kids. Also, as well as sponsoring youth sports teams, this company also provides two days of paid volunteer leave to ensure its employees have ample chance to give back to their community, which makes it clear the spirit of giving is a priority to this organization.

 

 

Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award: Eric Johnson of Vitality Village Osteopathy and Wellness

 

A commitment to overall health and wellbeing, and community, are driving forces that continue to lead the recipient of this award to great success. An opportunity to volunteer with a falls prevention and stroke rehab program as an undergrad at university started this recipient on the path to entrepreneurship which later would result in Eric opening his own successful business in downtown Hespeler. Utilizing business in relation to his many skills – including founding his own landscaping business which he maintained until August of 2022 - has been a passion and has led him to achieve great success in a short time. According to many of his loyal clients, he is constantly trying to do better for his community and is proud his business gives people the opportunity to connect and find commonalities in hobbies, health, and goals. He and the team of health experts he has assembled under one roof provides the perfect setting for his clients to foster those connections.

 

 

New Venture of the Year award winner: Java Jax Good Roast Coffee Inc.

 

The recipient of this award is a great example of what a small business owner can achieve through passion and good old-fashioned hard work. After navigating through the litany of startup requirements so many new businesses face, not to mention undertaking a major construction project during a pandemic, this new business managed to bring its plan to fruition in a relatively short time. Creating a bright and comfortable setting – perfect for private dining or a quiet place to do some work – has helped this family-run business achieve steady success since opening its door in the fall of 2022. In that time, it has become a ‘go-to’ spot for many loyal customers by ensuring service remains its No. 1 priority and has done this by making a point of getting to know their clients not just by name, but by also by remembering their favourite dishes and drinks, and by adjusting its menu to reflect their requests and dietary needs. The growing number of its glowing Google reviews and Instagram followers are clear indicators the owners are on the right path as they continue to hone and enhance their business model, which featured special drink offers that were included in the ‘welcome baskets’ presented to new residents of the neighbouring condos in the Gaslight District – reaching more than 800 residents.

 

(Two recipients tied for the following award)

 

WoW Cambridge award winner: Homewood Suites by Hilton Cambridge/Waterloo

 

Providing good old-fashioned hospitality, not to mention a haven for people in need, made this local company stand out in 2022. Welcoming dozens of families that arrived in Waterloo Region as Government Sponsored Refugees, the employees of this organization left a lasting impression on a group of people looking for a new start, including many displaced by the war in the Ukraine, by treating them with kindness and respect. In turn, this has prompted many of these refugees to make Cambridge their permanent home. The employees accomplished this great feat by leading with their hearts and not any unconscious biases. It wasn’t always an easy task, especially when faced with outright racism against new Canadians from a small but vocal minority of people who took it upon themselves to criticize their efforts.  But they didn’t let this negativity deter them from helping others, so much so, their ramped-up service efforts went on to garner them a globally recognized travel award from Trip Advisor.

 

 

WoW Cambridge award winner: Jeff and Angie of Sun Variety

 

The continued kindness shown by the recipients of this award has made a lasting impression on many of the customers who visited their variety store. But it was one good deed that stood out and didn’t go unnoticed in the community that set them apart. It involved a long-time customer who was having mobility issues. Realizing he was having an issue, out of general concern, the recipients of this award took it upon themselves to purchase him a four-pronged cane which immediately improved the quality of his life and enabled him to return to their store.

 

 

Chair’s Award: Graham Mathew Chartered Professional Accountants

 

The recipient of this award has continued to be a valuable community partner to countless organizations since it first went into business more than 50 years ago. This is a company that values the importance of creating an economically strong, healthy, and vibrant community, and knows that giving back is key to make that happen. They always walk the talk which is why they are the true definition of a good corporate citizen. Among their many achievements is ongoing support to the Cambridge Memorial Hospital Foundation and since 1995 have donated approximately $130,000 to this worthy cause, as well as sponsoring CMH events to ensure we have the best equipped hospital possible. In fact, they played a pivotal role in the WeCareCMH Campaign in 2017, which raised more than $10 million towards the purchase of vital equipment. But their support doesn’t just include the community’s physical health but extends to its cultural health also which is why this company has been a been a big financial supporter of Drayton Entertainment since the Hamilton Family Theatre Cambridge first opened its doors in 2013.

As well, this award recipient also continues to do its best to ensure our community’s most vulnerable are not forgotten and is an ongoing champion of the Cambridge Shelter Corporation in its work to help those in need, not only sponsoring the region-wide Hockey Helps the Homeless fundraiser but by providing this organization with expert accounting assistance.

However, these are just a handful of the organizations and causes this company quietly supports behind the scenes. Others include, to name just a few, the Cambridge Food Bank, United Way Waterloo Region Communities, Porchlight Counselling & Addiction Services, Food4Kids, and YMCA Three Rivers. This award is all about going above and beyond, which is something this company does nearly daily and for that, as a community, we couldn’t be more thankful.

 

 

Community Impact Award: Terry Kratz of HFK MacRae & Wilson LLP

 

Community and prosperity are two words that clearly mean a great deal to the recipient of this prestigious award. Born and raised in Waterloo Region, Terry Kratz has seamlessly blended his knack for numbers with his passion for volunteering by continually assisting various initiatives and organizations that help make our community an even better place to work, live and play. Throughout his very successful accounting career, which has included a partnership for more than a decade at Ernst & Young, our award recipient has always been willing to step up to assist organizations and causes in need.

The quiet, steadfast, and realistic approach he uses in his professional career has been a huge benefit to the many groups who are fortunate to have him in their corner. From his past involvement with the Grand River Film Festival, Cambridge Community Foundation, and Cambridge Library & Gallery, to his current work with the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, his commitment to ensuring these organizations and others like them flourish has never wavered.  So, it’s no surprise he is often the first person to step up to lend a hand. He also remains driven to ensure our community succeeds economically. In the 1990s he played a pivotal role in the creation of the city’s much talked about strategic plan called ‘Our Common Future’, as well Chaired the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors. In fact, his relationship with the Chamber has continued as Board Treasurer for the last 20 years allowing him to work very closely with its key officials in their efforts to assist our city’s business community grow and prosper. Also, his love of exploring new lands has made him an integral part of making our Travel Program a success, leading dozens of adventure seekers to exotic locations worldwide. He is a true community champion who never stops making an impact.

 

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Excitement is building for Business Expo 2023.

 

This popular trade show, which hasn’t been held since 2019, returns to Bingemans on May 10 and will feature more than 200 exhibitors and at least 1,500 attendees from throughout Cambridge, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Guelph.

 

“This has always been a great opportunity for local businesses to not only showcase what they do but meet and network with other business leaders,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “It also will provide job hunters, entrepreneurs and businesses the chance to make professional connections.”

 

Business Expo 2023, co-sponsored by the Cambridge, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Guelph Chambers of Commerce, is free for the public to attend and will also feature many local food and beverage vendors. It runs from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., providing ample time to check out the displays.

 

“All three Chambers are pleased to have the chance once again to be able to work together on this event which gives attendees the opportunity to really learn about some of the great local businesses we have,” says Greg.

 

For businesses taking part in the trade show, he says the quality of their displays can make or break the experience for them.

 

“Exhibitors new to trade shows tend to focus on the flashy; they want to create displays that will draw crowds,” he says. “But that’s not the point. It’s not the number of people your display draws that matters; it’s whether or not your exhibit engages them when they’re there.”

 

To maximize your networking at Business Expo 2023, here are a few tips:

 

  • Neatness and visibility - Keep your display neatly organized and clearly mark all your prices.
  • Build Demand - Spark customers’ interest by placing a sold sign on a few items, or by leaving a display spot empty.
  • Be Interactive - Contests, prizes, demonstrations, games, and quizzes will generate interest in your display.
  • Offer Takeaways - Provide visitors with a small item they can take home with them.
  • Clear Signage - Ensure basic information and prices are clearly visible for visitors.
  • Literature - Stock up on brochures and fliers, as well as price sheets and business cards.
  • Be Business Ready - Make sure you have pens and order forms ready to process potential sales.
  • Engage With Visitors - A friendly welcome and the proper body language can go a long way.
  • Always Be Open - Ensure your booth is never left empty.
  • Follow Up Promptly - The faster you send out emails or make a call the better it is for your business.

 

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It has been a tumultuous time for businesses since COVID-19 surfaced nearly two years ago, which is why the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is encouraging business leaders to celebrate themselves at our annual Business Excellence Awards.

 

“It’s not only time to celebrate the achievements of businesses, but also to celebrate all the people who have endured the last couple of years,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “It’s time to raise our glasses to the very people and businesses that have given us all the opportunities we have in our community.”

 

The Business Excellence Awards is the Chamber’s premier event and has honoured the contributions and achievements of business leaders in the City of Cambridge and Township of North Dumfries since 2000, and features 11 award categories, eight of whom require nominations.

 

“We all know somebody in business who has done something generally remarkable during COVID-19,” says Greg, adding this may go beyond the concept of ‘pivoting’. “Maybe they have created a whole new line of products related to PPE? Or maybe they became very innovative in the way they operate due to staff changes or shortages?”

 

Also, he says there may be businesses out there that have successfully enhanced their workplace culture at a time when employees have had to distance themselves via Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

 

“Despite that, perhaps there are businesses that have found ways to bring their employees even closer together?”

 

As well, Greg says there are businesses that should be recognized because they have found ways to help the community, even during this tough time.

 

“There are many companies who have been successful through the pandemic but made a difference in the community by being generous with their profits and helping others who have been unable to help themselves whether this storm.”

 

He also encourages businesses to nominate themselves.

 

“It’s not a bad thing to nominate yourself because there may be others who don’t know or understand what you did, or the stress or strain you went through during this time,” says Greg. “These are stories that need to be told.”

 

He says the awards are a great way for the Cambridge business community to celebrate its hard work and efforts.


“We are an innovative and aggressive business community. We are a passionate business community, which makes us very busy every day,” says Greg. “But we can take a couple of minutes out of our day to look around at our peers and nominate them because we’ve all done something important and unique and special during the last two years.”

 

To make a nomination, visit: https://bit.ly/3rLwsdL

More details of our awards event will be announced soon.

 

Award categories open for nominations:  

  • Spirit of Cambridge Award 
  • Business of the Year (1 – 10 employees) 
  • Business of the Year (11 – 49 employees)
  • Business of the Year (More than 50 employees) 
  • New Venture of the Year Award 
  • Outstanding Workplace 
  • Marketing Excellence 
  • Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award

 

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Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce Kick-Off Campaign to put a Spotlight on Shop Local in Celebration of Small Business Week 2021.

 

Supporting local has never been more important and is the theme of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) annual ‘Small Business: Too Big to Ignore’ Campaign’ which takes place during Small Business Week which runs October 17-23.

 

Throughout the week, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce – which created the ‘Too Big to Ignore’ movement several years ago - and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), along with 155+ chambers of commerce and boards of trade across the province, are encouraging Ontarians to support local businesses in their community as well as amplify ongoing advocacy and initiatives to promote and protect small businesses who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.

 

“I encourage everyone in Waterloo Region to do what they can to support and celebrate our small businesses by shopping and dining locally, not just during Small Business Week, but all year round,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce CEO & President Greg Durocher. “It’s very clear that small businesses are not only the heart of our communities but the backbone of our economy.”

 

Small and medium-sized businesses contribute significantly to our national and local economies and employ nearly 90% of Canada’s private sector workforce and 88% of Ontario’s, according to a StatsCan survey conducted over three weeks in April of 2020 in partnership with the Canadian and Ontario Chambers of Commerce.

 

However, that same survey showed since the arrival of COVID-19, many of these small businesses have been impacted. In fact, results indicated that 68% saw a 10% decrease in revenue and 22% said they were unable to stay fully or partially open during the pandemic, and that more than 25% feared they couldn’t stay open for more than three additional months.

 

This is why supporting local businesses, especially now as our economic recovery builds momentum, is imperative.

 

“By coming together in support of our small businesses, we can come through this time stronger and more resilient than ever,” says Greg, adding the timing of the #YouGottaShopHereWR initiative is extremely timely in relation to Small Business Week.

 

Created in partnership with the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce thanks to a federal grant, the initiative is encouraging all local businesses – not just Chamber members - to create a short fun video that can be posted on the YouGottaShopHereWR.ca website and shared via Instagram & TikTok using the hashtag #YouGottaShopHereWR.

 

“Not only do we hope to raise the profile of these local businesses but show everyone why Waterloo Region is such a great community,” says Greg.

 

In addition to encouraging people to shop and support local, the ‘Small Business: Too Big to Ignore’ campaign also puts a spotlight on ongoing Ontario Chamber Network advocacy and initiatives such as:

 

“Small businesses are cornerstones of our local economies and key to thriving communities—creating jobs, driving innovation, and generating wealth for us all,” says Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, OCC.

 

Canadian Small Business Week takes place during the third week of October every year. This year, the celebration will occur October 17-23.

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The pandemic’s arrival has jolted our economy both nationally and locally.

 

According to Statistics Canada, the Canadian economy contracted just over 18% between March and April of last year.

 

However, as pandemic-related restrictions began to lift the business climate has continued to improve but it’s not out of the woods just yet. That’s why the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce have joined forces to create the #YouGottaShopHereWR marketing campaign.

 

“Now more than ever our small to medium-sized businesses need all the support we can give them,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “Our aim is to provide that support by encouraging people to spend their hard-earned dollars close to home.”

 

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber Network partnered with the Government of Canada to support small businesses nationwide through the creation of shop local initiatives by investing approximately $33 million in a plan to motivate Canadians to buy local. The Chambers submitted a joint proposal and received just over $200,000 of that funding which they’ve used to create the campaign, in co-operation with some local community partners and business associations.

 

“Creating these partnerships is vital to ensure the success of #YouGottaShopHereWR,” says Greg, noting the timing of the campaign couldn’t be more ideal since October has been deemed ‘Small Business Month’. 

 

Small businesses made up of 98% of employer businesses in Canada in 2020, according to a recent StatsCan report, employing 9.7 million people which represents approximately 64% of Canada’s total labour force. By comparison that same year, medium-sized businesses employed about 3.2 million people (approximately 21.2% of the labour force).

 

“There’s no question that SMEs are significant drivers when it comes to our economic recovery,” says Greg. “That’s why we hope many of our local businesses, whether they’re Chamber Members or not, will want to take part in this campaign.”

 

Participation is easy, he says, noting all that is required is a short video to promote the business which is then shared through the YouGottaShopHereWR.ca website and various other digital channels such as Instagram and TikTok.

 

“The videos should be fun and not more than a minute long, and there’s instructions that we will provide to show them how to do it,” says Greg, adding the purpose is to not only encourage people to shop locally but generate brand awareness for businesses in Waterloo Region.

The #YouGottaShopHereWR campaign runs until January 15, 2022, as an added boost to assist businesses during the post-holiday shopping season.

 

Learn more about how your business can participate by visiting  https://yougottashopherewr.ca

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