For businesses, pandemic closes some doors, opens others

·3 min read
For businesses, pandemic closes some doors, opens others
For businesses, pandemic closes some doors, opens others

While many businesses across the region have been badly affected by the pandemic, some are scraping by, while a few have even managed to turn the situation into an opportunity.

Laura Twiss could see the trouble coming way back in March. Her ByWard Market boutique, Twiss and Weber, relied on museumgoers, conventioneers and tourists drawn in by the stylish, locally sewn clothing.

"It was getting heavy on the news and not a lot of people walking by. It was getting heavy on the heart, too," Twiss recalled.

In October, with losses mounting, she and business partner Tonia Weber shut down their bricks and mortar store and are now trying to find their footing online.

"It was a sense of relief," said Twiss. "We felt really in limbo. It was a relief to close the door."

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Now, Twiss's home is filled with clear plastic bins of bright blue dresses and cream coloured pants as she works to photograph the inventory to expand her business's online offering.

"Entrenpreneurs are optimistic by nature," said Corinne Pohlmann, senior vice-president of national affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). "Some may choose to close this business down and open a new one when things go back to normal."

The CFIB estimates one in every seven businesses will be unable to survive the pandemic. Though restaurants and the broader hospitality industry have been hit hard, they're not the only ones.

In 2019, Cheryl Caswell had her best year ever at Dogs at Camp, "a boarding kennel without kennels" on Ottawa's rural western edge.

For $35 a day, the "campers" run and play in an enclosed meadow, and at night sleep on beds of fresh sawdust in a cheerfully converted horse barn.

Caswell realized things were going south soon after the pandemic hit, grounding most travel.

"It was very obvious right from the start that if you can't travel, you aren't boarding your dog and you don't need Dogs at Camp," she said.

Eight months later, attendance has dropped from 35 dogs a day to around five. Facing a wintertime heating bill of about $1,000 per month, Caswell has decided to close Dogs at Camp for good in January.

"At some point I have to look after my mental health. I wasn't sleeping, I was stressed out every day, I just was exhausted all the time. Every business owner is exhausted from the stress of, do I stay open?"

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

While COVID-19 has closed some doors, it's opened a window of opportunity for Ottawa businessman Luigi Maiorino, who was hired to liquidate the furniture and other assets of the Albert at Bay Suite Hotel and Best Western Victoria Suites. Ever since, business has been booming.

Maiorino rented warehouses and shipping containers, and is now bringing in three truckloads of mattresses, armchairs, lamps and single-serve coffee makers every day. He's selling it all to retirement homes and other buyers.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

"We almost panicked. We just weren't ready for an onslaught of this many people and the interest," he said.

With local hoteliers telling him they're at about 20 per cent occupancy these days, he's expecting a steady supply of inventory, and income.