Pandemic rules 'closing us without closing us' say Windsor business owners

·4 min read

Phog Lounge owner Tom Lucier says he can't keep up with the constant change in COVID-19 regulations.

In the last few weeks, Windsor-Essex has seen three different sets of regulations fall into place — on top of additional ones from the local health unit — after moving from the province's prevent "green" category to the protect "yellow" and finally landing in the restrict "orange" zone this week.

"Right now, they're essentially closing us without closing us and we're jumping through hoops day-to-day and it's just not fair, it's kind of silly," he said.

When the categories first rolled out, Lucier said he anticipated the region would spend longer than a week in each category to fully see the impacts of those new restrictions.

"I think some of the smarter business owners that I know have seen the writing on the wall so they've been expecting these changes," Lucier said. "I haven't been, I've been expecting longer chunks, my understanding was that we would switch to zones for a month or two weeks but they make changes faster."

And he's not the only one feeling the overwhelmed and frustrated, according to chair of the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association Brian Yeomans, who said there is increasing frustration and concern among business owners.

Stacey Janzer/CBC
Stacey Janzer/CBC

"[Businesses] did a fantastic job through the summer and making sure that everything was safe, they followed all those guidelines, they followed all the rules. And when things aren't getting better, they're the ones that are still being punished instead of people that are having these house parties, that are that are leaving and going and doing other things and that's infuriating," he said.

The most upsetting part, Yeomans said, is that at the same time people are championing the "shop local" cause, they are also breaking the rules, which negatively impacts businesses.

"We've listened to people talking about supporting local and supporting your small businesses. But every time you're going to a house party, you're putting those businesses at risk, because you're causing the cases to rise ... and it's infuriating," he said.

Windsor-Essex health officials said Wednesday that based on case rate, the region technically already qualifies for the province's control "red" category. The next category after that is total lockdown.

With this in mind, Yeomans said he hopes that the government has supports in place should Windsor-Essex need to lockdown again.

I'm really hoping that the federal government will have some preparations in place, some plans, so that when, god forbid, we get put into a lockdown situation, that these small businesses aren't left in the lurch and left to fend for themselves," he said. "The whole city is is suffering from carelessness and irresponsibility of some."

On Thursday, the health unit said it recognizes how changing categories can harm locals, and hopes to have a conversation with the province Friday before any decisions are made on whether the region will move into the red zone.

Stacey Janzer/CBC
Stacey Janzer/CBC

Businesses hope to avoid lockdown

Since the first wave of COVID-19, Cafe March says business isn't great but with the local farmers' market, now holiday market, they've benefited from the extra foot traffic.

Yet with the red category looming, they worry the market could come to a premature end.

"If we are moving to red then it's going to impact a lot more businesses," Cafe March 21 owner Henry Kim said. "I think it's going to impact us like really bad. And hopefully the farmer's market or the holiday market happening downtown Windsor right now it's staying because it's been helping us a lot."

He said they'll continue to follow all the proper protocols but at the end of the day, it's out of their control.

'Rolling with the punches'

All they can do is continue what they're doing, which includes "rolling with the punches," Lucier said.

Tahmina Aziz/CBC
Tahmina Aziz/CBC

"It's frustrating because we are following a protocol and we are following that situation and it just keeps getting trimmed back and trimmed back and for us it'd be better if they just closed everything, subsidized and supported the staff," he said.

And while times are tough all around, he said he appreciates the support from the community.

"We're doing what we've been told, according to health officials. We are really grateful for that solidarity," he said. "I think all of us are I would have never expected people to be so responsible when they're here and responsive to all these wacky changes. So we're just grateful. We just hope that we can weather the worst of what's coming."