Small business, restaurants take another hit because of new restrictions

·8 min read

That nasty word, pivot, has once again become part of everyday conversation, as governments, schools, businesses and parents deal with increased pandemic restrictions. The province describes the action as a temporary move “into Step Two of its Roadmap to Reopen with modifications that take into account the province’s successful vaccination efforts”, according to a media release on Jan. 3.

While not as restrictive as the previous shutdowns in March 2020, December 2020 and April 2021, the lockdown, which went into effect on Jan. 5, has resulted in the return to online schooling, gathering limits and capacity limits in indoor settings. The restrictions will last for at least 21 days, or Jan. 26, while a return to in-person learning in Ontario schools will not happen until at least Jan. 17.

Other measures include, but are not limited to:

Requiring businesses and organizations to ensure employees work remotely unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site.

Retail settings, including shopping malls, permitted at 50 per cent capacity. For shopping malls, physical distancing will be required in line-ups, loitering will not be permitted and food courts will be required to close.

Personal care services permitted at 50 per cent capacity and other restrictions. Saunas, steam rooms, and oxygen bars closed.

The closing of indoor dining at restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments. Outdoor dining with restrictions, takeout, drive through and delivery is permitted.

Restricting the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m. and the consumption of alcohol on-premise in businesses or settings after 11 p.m. with delivery and takeout, grocery/convenience stores and other liquor stores exempted.

A full list of closures can be viewed at www.independent.on.ca.

The Grey Bruce Health Unit, Bruce County, Municipality of Kincardine and Huron-Kinloss Township all released statements with details of the new restrictions.

At the county level, all administrative hubs are closed until Jan. 26. Libraries will remain open but are required to operate at 50 per cent capacity and the museum in Southampton is closed to the public until Jan. 26. A full list of closures can be viewed at www.brucecounty.on.ca.

In Kincardine, administrative centres including the municipal office, fire administration office, fire and emergency services stations (Station 12 in Kincardine is open by appointment only), Davidson Centre, Tiverton Sports Centre, Bruce Township Community Centre and the Visitor’s Centre are closed.

“As we start a new year, the Omicron variant has gotten ahead of us and we need to continue to come together to support and protect one another, as we have over the past many months,” said mayor Gerry Glover. “Let us do our part to slow the spread: get vaccinated, get booster shots, follow the new regulations, and do everything we can to continue to support local businesses by shopping where we live. We all want the pandemic to end and we can all do our part to control the spread of Omicron. I want to thank all of our front-line healthcare workers who have worked tirelessly over the past two years to provide health care to the community, and we need to do all we can do to keep people healthy so we don’t add to their caseloads.”

Up-to-date information is available by visiting www.kincardine.ca.

In Huron-Kinloss, centres including the Ripley-Huron Community Centre, Point Clark Community Centre, Lucknow Town Hall and the Lucknow Sports Centre are all closed to the public. While the municipal office will remain open, many staff are working from home, so appointments are encouraged. Council and committee meetings will continue to be held in an electronic format.

More information is available on the website at www.huronkinloss.com.

In this community, small businesses, restaurants and fitness facilities are feeling the full effect of yet another shutdown.

"These revolving shutdowns of our hospitality sector are going to be hard to recover from,” said downtown development manager (BIA) Rick Clarke. “While takeout service provides some revenue, it fails to come close to meeting the fixed costs of running a restaurant. There’s also the ripple effect on the industry with unemployed servers, reduced kitchen staff, and smaller food supply orders. With each shutdown, these businesses have gone deeper into debt with only brief periods of some normalcy allowing a bit of recovery. But (its) not a full recovery, so that debt keeps building. I feel the frustration and disappointment experienced by our restaurant owners. They, and their staff, need more direct assistance from the government.”

Clarke’s comments are echoed by local business owners who are once again facing restrictions. Tonya Adams has owned West Shore Clothing and Surf Shop for 17 years and is the chair of the Kincardine BIA. Facing the fourth round of restrictions, she acknowledges how tough the rules have been on small businesses and says her heart goes out to restaurant owners, gyms and other establishments that once again must either close their doors or drastically reduce their hours and capacity.

Adams says throughout the pandemic she has been overwhelmed by the support the community has provided small business and that “people really get what shopping local is – supporting businesses, the people and the community.”

In spite of that support though, she wonders how long businesses can keep coming back, saying “We can’t keep going like this – businesses can’t survive.”

She feels some businesses may have to resort to temporarily closing their businesses for short periods to help control expenses, as people just aren't coming through the doors.

Besides the disruption to revenue, small businesses miss their connection to community and customers. As businesses establish themselves, clients become friends and business owners look forward to supporting local events and charities.

Adams also faces the challenge many other small business owners are facing, doing double duty running her business while guiding her children, aged nine and 12, through online learning.

Sadie Al, Sleepers Bed Gallery, said “as heartbreaking as the latest provincial regulations are for everyone, including small businesses, it has amplified the importance of continuing to support our town and the local businesses that surround us.”

Veronika Cook co-owns FIG Studio Kitchen in Ripley with her husband, David. She says “gobsmacked” is the word that best described their reaction to the recent restrictions and “we saw it coming but didn’t want to believe it.”

Hedging their bets, the couple decided to go to a takeout-only menu before new year’s, not wanting to have to cancel reservations should capacity changes be put in place. She describes the reaction of her customers to the decision as gracious and wonderful.

In an effort to keep the mood light, the Cooks posted a hilarious tongue-in-cheek video showing them enjoying a drink on FIG’s outdoor patio, as snow fell, winds whistled and large vehicles drove by, inviting residents to enjoy an outdoor meal in Bruce County in January. The video is posted it on their social media page.

But good humour aside, the Cooks know these restrictions, however temporary, mean staff, once again, have to be laid off and the reduction in revenue will affect other plans they might have to travel or expand.

“Every time we start doing well, the rug gets tossed out again,” said Veronika. “This open-close, open-close does us no favours. It hurts us a lot.”

On Jan. 7, the provincial government announced a targeted relief grant of $10,000 for eligible businesses subject to closures because of the new restrictions. The relief will be available to eligible restaurants, bars, gyms, tourist attractions, theatres and cinemas and other affected businesses.

“I am well aware of the sacrifices and hardships businesses, workers, and families have endured during these unprecedented times,” Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson said. “That is why we will continue to support them in unprecedented ways.”

Businesses that qualified for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant and are eligible will be pre-screened so won’t need to individually apply, but new or newly eligible businesses will have to apply through a portal that will be available on the www.ontario.ca website in the coming weeks. Grants will be sent to qualified businesses in February.

The province also announced is will be providing electricity rate relief for small businesses, workers and families spending more time at home because of closures. Beginning Jan. 18 and running for 21 days, electricity prices will be reduced to the off-peak rate of 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour, 24 hours per day.

Applications will open on Jan. 18 for the Ontario Business Costs Rebate program, which will provide tax and energy rebates up to 100 per cent to businesses forced to close or reduce capacity.

A full list of programs offered can be found at www.ontario.ca.

At the federal level, a new income support program is available for eligible workers who find themselves without work or with hours of work drastically cut because of a lockdown. The Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit will provide $300 ($270 after taxes) to those who apply and meet the eligibility criteria for the program.

Tammy Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent

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