VANCOUVER -- While many businesses are struggling to pay their bills and others simply aren’t allowed to open their doors due to COVID-19 restrictions, butcher shops and meat producers across the province are so busy they’re having trouble keeping up with demand.

Mom and pop businesses from Vancouver to Prince George tell CTV News not only are customers going to them because they have more selection, but also to support local companies and keep them going as the economy takes a nosedive.

“On a Sunday or Monday we could have the normal number of people and same number of sales we’d expect and then Wednesday would roll around and it’d be like Christmas Eve and everybody forgot to order ahead,” said Raul Garnucci, general manager of Windsor Quality Meats on Vancouver’s Main Street.

On Friday morning, several people were lined up outside the door waiting for their turn inside as the store has limited customer occupancy to three at a time, with a dozen employees busily packing, carving and marinating meats for orders.

“The longest our line has been is around the corner into the alley, but in those situations we’re doing our best to move the lines as quickly as possible,” said Garnucci, adding that business has been booming for the past four weeks and he’s been ordering as much as his local suppliers can send him.

“We’re doing our best to help our customers and community with whatever help they need without shorting anyone — we don’t want anyone leaving here feeling like they don’t have enough to eat or that there isn’t enough food out there,” he said.

In Pitt Meadows, the Hopcott family has been facing the same surge in demand since rumblings of a border shutdown and lockdown began just over a month ago, flooding their Hopcott Meats store with customers eager to snap up beef they raise on their farm.

“It happened overnight starting Friday the 13th, of all days, and by Sunday we were sold out of almost everything,” said Jenn Hopcott. “We kept saying it can’t last, and it probably took a good four or five days before it sunk in and we realized we should talk about a game plan.”

Like Garnucci, Hopcott says customers are making a conscious effort to support small, local companies that need the help and also provide the quality and variety they’re looking for. Both Garnucci and Hopcott source chicken, eggs and pork from Fraser Valley producers.

“I think the eat local movement has been growing and this is just going to help solidify that — where you’re more self-sufficient and don’t have to rely on outside sources for your food,” she said.

Demand for local meat also surging outside Metro Vancouver

The owner and operator of Kawano Farms in Prince George is also a spokesperson for the BC Abattoir Association. He says small, locally-grown meat is in high demand as communities rally around family farms and small businesses.

“Pretty much since this whole COVID thing got going, everyone wants to shop local and support local and it’s been fantastic for local meat producers,” said Mike Noullett.

He acknowledges that while some of the earlier customers went to independent butcher shops and stores as a necessity, many of them are coming back.

“When a lot of the bigger stores – the Save-on-Foods and the Costcos – ran out of meat, people were scrambling. When they found out there’s local producers and stores with a good supply who can up it when they need to, they realized we do a really good jobs and you might pay a little more, but it’s worth it,” said Noullett.

“If we can retain a third of the customers long-term, this will have been a great thing for us.”

Price fluctuations

Windsor Quality Meats, which has been a mainstay in East Vancouver since 1946, has always prioritized quality over trying to match the prices of chain grocery stores, and their suppliers are predominantly local.

Chicken and pork are from the Fraser Valley and the prices have remained fairy static, but ground beef and stewing meats have surged 25 to 50 percent in price. Garnucci points to the limited operations of so many restaurants resulting in dropped prices on items like steak and prime rib, which home cooks are splurging on in lieu of a night out.

“I have a lot of customers who come in and play this game, ‘If I had gone out for dinner to buy this steak, it would’ve cost me $80 or $90 bucks, but it’s costing me $20 or $30 here,’” Garnucci said.

“They’re leaving happy.”