As Holiday Season Looms, Businesses Suffer From COVID Restrictions

As Holiday Season Looms, Businesses Suffer From COVID Restrictions
People line up outside Vaughan Mills Shopping Centre in Vaughan, Ont., on Nov. 29, 2020. With malls in the Toronto core closed due to provincial orders, shoppers flocked to malls on the outskirts of the Greater Toronto Area for Black Friday weekend shopping. (The Canadian Press/Cole Burston)
Lee Harding

Some business owners fear COVID-related restrictions will rob them of the ability to capitalize on the holiday season—a crucial time of the year for small business. Ingenuity has kept some businesses afloat thus far, but more may fail in the coming weeks, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

The Ontario government has shuttered most non-essential businesses in Toronto and the Peel Region—which consists of three municipalities west and northwest of Toronto—for at least 28 days. Meanwhile, partial lockdowns are in force in most of Quebec, with schools being closed for longer around Christmas.

In Manitoba, stores that remain open can sell only non-essential items, although liquor and cannabis sales continue. Retailers must remove non-essential items from the shelves or rope them off. Large stores are limited to 25 percent of normal capacity, to a maximum of 250 people.

Jonathan Alward, Manitoba director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), says many business owners are feeling financial stress. The CFIB reports that nationwide, 70 percent of business owners are seeing sales well below normal and 158,000 businesses could close without immediate help.

“It’s a really challenging time for a lot of small businesses,” Alward said in an interview. He noted that restaurants and many personal service-type businesses such as salons and spas that have been forced to close will suffer more now than during the spring lockdown, given that the Christmas season “is a much busier and more important time of the year.”

“A lot of business owners I’ve talked to, they’ve already gone through everything they saved up or exhausted all their access to financing that they could have gotten already,” he said. “The cash crunch is a very, very real problem right now.”

Renewed restrictions began in Toronto and the Peel Region on Nov. 23. Supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, hardware stores, beer and wine and liquor stores, pharmacies, and safety supply stores can open for in-person shopping, but only at 50 percent capacity. Other retailers can only open for curbside pickup and delivery.

Restaurants (apart from take-out and drive-thru service) and bars are shut down entirely—some for good. TasteToronto recently listed by neighbourhood dozens of restaurants, eateries, and bars that have permanently closed during the pandemic, some after decades of operation.

Tattoo artist Victoria Martin had to shut down Nov. 23. She did her work at two locations before her industry was locked down for four months in the spring. Business was better than ever when she reopened in the summer, but now a potentially long lockdown looms.

“It definitely makes us nervous. Currently we’re struggling to put food on the table. ... We don’t know how long it’s going to last, so all we can do is hope and pray,” Martin said.

“You have big box stores like Costco and Walmart and all those places that are packing people in, open to the public, while small businesses are struggling and we have to shut down. I don’t think it’s fair.”

Manitobans are not permitted to buy electronics, toys, and many clothing items in-store. Curbside pickup is possible by appointment, but people can’t go to a store and make a purchase on-site, even if it is outside.

The CFIB recently promoted Small Business Saturday, an annual campaign dedicated to supporting small businesses and communities on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. However, Alward says many consumers are still unaware of their options.

“You can call and still get expert advice and opinions over the phone for curbside pickup or delivery. There’s an education piece to that, because I think a lot of consumers from across the province still don’t realize the businesses have gone online,” he says.

The CFIB has launched a petition calling on Ontario Premier Doug Ford to allow non-essential small retail stores to open on the condition they have only three customers at a time. Alward says this approach make a lot of sense.

“One of the questions governments across the country have to look at is, is it safer to have people congregating to your big box stores like Walmart, or does it make more sense to have them spread out at smaller businesses where everyone can really physically distance and … have more control over the flow of customers?”

Winnipeg entrepreneur Barry Kay has been in business 30 years as a DJ, MC, and videographer. He told The Epoch Times that 2020 was shaping up to be his best year yet before the pandemic hit.

“We have 90 percent less business [now] than we did in 2019,” he said. To adapt, Kay spent two months learning all he could about livestreaming and now offers that service for weddings and funerals.

“Let me tell you, that’s not a replacement for the business I was doing. It certainly helps, but we’re still a long way off from where we could be, where we should be,” he said.

Kay also bought a broadcast licence and started On Air With Barry Kay, a Saturday night virtual dance party that has sponsors.

“We’ve done everything from ’50s, dance through the decade, boy bands, girl bands, ’80s, ’90s; we did a Manitoba authentic social,” he said.

“I’m fairly positive about everything. I know what’s going on, but there’s no sense in having a pity party and worrying. You’ve got to be proactive, you’ve got to be innovative, and you’ve got to do everything you need to do to get through this.”