#LoveLocal: 'Double down and double mask': Cambridge chamber president says businesses must fight for future

·3 min read

Locally owned and operated businesses are the social, cultural and economic heart of a community. Unfortunately, this past year has left many unsure if they can continue. In this weeklong series, we look at the vital role local businesses play in our communities, the financial pressure they are under due to COVID-19 and what we can do to help them survive.

Survival for local businesses during the pandemic is a two-headed beast, according to Greg Durocher, president and CEO of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

Besides fighting for government support, with help from the local chambers in Cambridge and Greater Kitchener-Waterloo, businesses have to be tight on COVID-19 protocols to make sure data doesn’t once again sway towards their need to close.

That’s what the data suggested in the second wave, Durocher said, though he points to asymptomatic students bringing the virus home to parents, who then brought it to work. Workplaces took the blame.

But, he said, there is a way to stifle the spread in workplaces.

“It’s time to double down and double mask,” Durocher said.

Recognizing as well local businesses need people to change their shopping strategies and key in on buying local, Durocher said making people feel safe to shop in their establishments is paramount.

“If our businesses, in our community, don’t do absolutely everything they can to mitigate workplace transmission of this virus then they don’t give us any defense at the government level to say look, there’s no reason to shut down business because they aren’t the problem,” he said.

While it seems to put the burden on businesses, Durocher said he has already seen the resiliency of local entrepreneurs, pivoting their businesses to curbside pickup and online sales to survive two shutdowns. Strict PPE is another layer of protection for the future of a business.

Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said that creativity has always been at the heart of small, local businesses and that’s why he is optimistic about their survival. He hopes for continued co-operation and collaboration between governments of all political stripes to bring good programs that help business owners weather the storm — as well as for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Stay positive and test negative,” he said.

Durocher did note while the government has been helpful in some cases, many businesses have fallen through the cracks as rules and regulations to qualify for funding is skewed and “intentionally” put in place to limit payouts.

“You really get to that point where you say, ‘come on, you’re not even making any sense with having a rule like that in place’,” Durocher said.

While there are no specific regional numbers kept on the toll the pandemic has had on local businesses, owners need to look forward instead of back.

“The reality of it is, things need to get back to a more normal level of revenue generation because you can’t go too long just paying your bills. And the government supports are starting to wane,” he said, noting businesses need to focus on the end game. That includes the continuation of government supports as well, of which local chambers have been advocating.

“If we don’t have everyone there at the end, we can’t do that robust, very aggressive recovery. We need everybody there at the end.”

The worst-case scenario, he said, is a third shutdown. That could happen if numbers increase in the region, but it would further cripple local businesses and be a death knell for many, Durocher said.

“I am terrified at the government utilizing a very ineffective tool of lockdown to mitigate the spread of the virus. The reality of it is, the government is using lockdown as a measure of control when really it’s a tool when all else fails,” he said.

“It’s going to be a pretty gloomy looking picture.”

With files from Bambang Sadewo

Bill Doucet, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cambridge Times