Ottawa entrepreneurs use creativity to rise from pandemic ashes

·3 min read

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Casey and Cindy Canning's business phone was ringing off the hook — but not in a good way.

Their party rental company — Runamok Amusements — has been renting out inflatable bouncy castles and games, and running carnivals for parties, schools and churches for the past 16 years.

That all changed earlier this year.

It was cancellation after cancellation, Casey recalled.

"We basically shut right down," he said. "It was kind of like a state of shock."

Cindy Canning said she experienced depression.

"I found it pretty devastating."

The Cannings said their company typically goes into debt in the winter, buying new equipment from trade shows, then makes that money back from summertime events. Since most events were cancelled from the spring onwards, the company was soon $500,000 in the red and only made about two per cent of what it had the previous year, said Casey.

The business became heavily reliant on government subsidies to keep afloat.

I'm out there spinning from dawn until dusk. - Cindy Canning, co-owner of Runamok Amusements

That's when Cindy decided to look around the house for anything which could help make ends meet. She found a few cotton candy machines they normally rented out.

The family's makeshift cotton candy factory was born on Dec. 1, and now offers about 60 flavours — from salted caramel and maple bacon to pink champagne.

"We're pulling ten hour days now, just to try to keep up [with demand]," said Cindy. "I'm out there spinning from dawn until dusk."

Submitted by Cindy Canning
Submitted by Cindy Canning

She said it's a family affair, with her four adult children helping out by twirling cotton candy during breaks from their post-secondary schools.

"Every time we get an online order ... we run around the house dancing and squealing with delight," she said. "Our house smells great. It smells like marshmallows."

Unsure if parties and events will come back in 2021, the couple said they hope they've found a long-term business in the sweet stuff.

"Hopefully this becomes the new thing for us," said Casey. "Our spirits are fantastic."

Volunteering to turn 2020 around

Catherine Landry owns a local events planning company, Call Betty Marketing.

She originally had big hopes for 2020.

"It was going to be my year. It was going to be the greatest year ever," she said. "Then the pandemic hit and that was it."

Landry said her passion is "big, beautiful events," but come March, all of her events were cancelled.

Landry said she was in denial for months.

"In August, it hit me like a baseball bat — my business is over," she said. "I fell to my knees and I'm like, 'I don't know what I'm going to do,'" she said.

Submitted by Catherine Landry
Submitted by Catherine Landry

Landry said she's making ends meet with side hustles like consulting, as she figures out how to pivot her business in the pandemic climate.

With the latest lockdowns that started on Boxing Day, Landry said she lost all of her recent marketing clients because their businesses were shut down.

This is truly the season and the year that we find out what really matters. - Catherine Landry, Call Betty Marketing CEO

"In the meantime, I'm just going heavy hard on charity work," she said.

Landry said she's sleeping about four hours a day, teaming up with local organizations to bring goods to "people in great need." She planned a wedding for a woman with terminal cancer within weeks.

"It's to keep me busy, to keep moving forward," she said. "Helping others keeps me positive."

Now, Landry said the end of 2020 has become "one of the most love-filled holiday seasons" of her life.

"[It's] the year of discovery. It isn't the year of loss."