Reopen for Business: Owners Tell Their Stories

June 23, 2020 Updated: June 24, 2020

As lockdown restrictions continue to be lifted across the country and more and more businesses are reopening, some retailers are finding that it’s taking time to return to business as usual, while others are hitting the ground running.

The latter is the case for GP Bikes in Whitby, Ontario, which reopened in early June.

“The recreational vehicle side has been crazy in the way of sales with dirt bikes and off-road vehicles because everyone is staying at home or going to the cottage instead of going on vacation,” said president Jerry Ordanis.

“That’s been good and the business has picked up since we’ve reopened, which we’re very encouraged by.”

Before reopening, Ordanis had to implement some expensive changes in keeping with social distancing protocols, and he also laid new cobblestone paving at the front of the store.

“I had to do a lot of extra things like hanging plexiglass, organizing the showroom to accommodate distancing safety protocols,” he said, adding that the cost came to around $20,000 in all.

GP Bikes has been in business for 20 years and employs 55 to 60 people, almost half of whom were laid off when the shutdown began. The store offered curbside pickup during the lockdown, and while it was “pretty busy,” business was down by 40 percent in April, Ordanis said.

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Jerry Ordanis (C) with staff members at GP Bikes. (Renae Jarrett)

The store is now back up and running, but things look very different from pre-shutdown days, he adds.

“Most things have changed in the everyday tasks and interactions. Now that we have opened the doors to the store, we have so many more precautionary measures for all our staff, [such as] cleaning and disinfecting procedures,” he said.

“Masks or face shields are part of the new norm.”

Under Phase 2 in Ontario, more shuttered businesses have been allowed to reopen, including services such as hair salons, barbershops, and restaurant patios.

Dionne Wilson reopened her Ajax-based hair salon, Dionne Hair Care, on June 19, and although it’s only been a short time, her days already look different.

“We make sure we get in earlier to sanitize the salon and to check that our list of requirements is in place,” she said.

“My day starts earlier and ends later now. We are taking less clients per day. We don’t have walk-in clients as I try to meet the needs of my clientele and make our workspace safe for staff and clients.”

Wilson’s clientele is grateful too. Since the shutdown, clients have been leaving numerous messages.

“They left messages thanking God that we are OK, and that was nice of them to reach out to us. So that was a bright spot for us, coming in every day to hear those messages.”

Of course, mixed in with the well wishes has been the eager anticipation of clients, waiting to get the green light to make appointments again.

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Dionne Wilson, owner of Dionne Hair Care. (Courtesy Dionne Wilson)

Given that many small businesses like hers are closing permanently, Wilson said she’s glad she was able to reopen, even if at a loss for now.

“It’s going to be less income coming in because you now have to be doing spacing in between and having less customers come in at any given time. So you’ll find that that’s where the challenge is going to come,” she said.

“Of course, this will affect your bottom line. It’ll be less.”

Cerita Miller is the founder of the Lighthouse Retreat and director of the Homebound Wellness Centre, both based in Ajax. The Lighthouse—a seniors’ day program she founded in 2013—closed in March with no present signs of reopening.

But the wellness centre, a non-profit that offers support to seniors in a variety of ways including delivering hot meals and grocery orders, has managed to remain open thanks to being eligible for the town of Ajax’s COVID-19 grant. It adapted its services for the community as a result.

“Many of the seniors that we work with are lonely and isolated, and so to be able to take that hot meal program and still navigate it in a different capacity now, delivering the meals to the seniors, cooking it and delivering it, that made a huge difference,” said Miller.

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A staff member with meals for seniors at the Homebound Wellness Centre in Ajax, Ontario. (Courtesy Homebound Wellness Centre)

As an example, Miller shared the story of a new client with numerous health challenges who is unable to leave her home and had been spending exorbitant amounts of money on food and delivery that she couldn’t afford.

“Now she has access to this meal program and the grocery delivery program.  She was just so grateful. The sense of gratitude that she was expressing was just so overwhelming for me that I just started to bawl. She was so, so grateful.”

Miller said that although the closure of the day program was “traumatic and devastating” for both her and her staff, it has given her more time to pace herself.

“The day program was the hustle and bustle where I was very much involved. In regard to home care, the managers are doing an amazing job dealing with the places we are supporting, so I do have the luxury right now to go slow.”