VANCOUVER -- While big box stores are welcoming the push to online shopping heading into the festive season, local retailers are struggling to keep up.

Robson Street in Vancouver, a major retail hub, is now filled with empty storefronts. Businesses have been forced to close due to a lack of shoppers and tourists choosing to go inside shops.

Elizabeth McKitrick owns Second Nature Home Boutique, which sells products that are from local artists or are locally sourced. She says operating a retail store during the COVID-19 pandemic has been “very up and down with challenges.”

Most businesses have had to adapt during this time and move to connecting with customers online. McKitrick says her store has Facebook and Instagram, but no online shopping. It also offers curbside pickup, but no delivery. While she’s always grateful for the business, preparing orders for pickup “is time-consuming and labor-intense for our team to do it.”

Nov. 30 is the start of an initiative called B.C. Buy Local. It aims to encourage consumers to look for businesses in their own neighborhoods.

Founder and executive director Amy Robinson says it’s a challenging time to compete with the likes of Amazon.

“Sometimes, consumer expectations are very high because they expect local businesses to offer free shipping and returns and all the same things that the big online companies do,” she said. “It’s been a really hard year and I think independent retailers, in particular, are always trying to make almost their whole year’s income in November and December.”

McKitrick said she’s hoping people “just don’t go to Amazon.”

“It’s like a black hole, really, for cash,” she said. “It’s going into Jeff Bezo’s pocket. He’s the wealthiest person in the world, and I just think, ‘Why?’ We have other ways of helping out communities.”

The advice to consumers is to start reading labels. Robinson is asking buyers to “look for the B.C. grown tomato, look for the B.C.-made soap.”