Small businesses brace for lockdown

·3 min read

WATERLOO REGION — Small businesses are facing the prospect of another lockdown, but with the knowledge they’ve been through this already.

On Friday, Waterloo Region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, said that stricter measures are needed locally to stop community spread. The COVID-19 virus is moving faster than ever before through the region. The province is expected to announce new restrictions Monday.

When asked about how it has been to own and operate a small business through the pandemic, Joanne Pfiefer said: “Hard. Like everybody it’s been hard. We’ve had to adapt.”

“Of course (lockdowns) are concerning. Across the board it’s concerning every time you’re told to lock the doors, and you can’t work.”

Pfiefer owns State of the Art Supplies in uptown Waterloo. Like many others, she’s had to drop aspects of her business, and find new ways to help her customers this year. She now takes orders through email, conducts curbside pickup and is building an online component to her business with Shopify.

Graham McRae, manager of Long & McQuade Musical Instruments in Waterloo, said lockdowns are not ideal, but he feels more prepared than last time.

“We worked out a pretty efficient curbside model in March and April,” he said. “We have a game plan in place for this time around.”

He also noted that while sales for items associated with live performances have severely decreased, streaming and recording equipment sales have greatly increased.

Keeping up with the changes throughout the pandemic has been difficult, said McRae. COVID-19 protocols and instructions for small businesses are often vague, scattered or include difficult timelines.

According to Statistics Canada, 60 per cent of surveyed businesses with one to four employees reported losses of 20 per cent or more in the first quarter of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

The vulnerability has been felt by local business for some time.

“We are now in recovery mode of how we can help businesses to be sustainable,” Linda Jutzi, executive director of the Downtown Kitchener Business Improvement Area, said recently.

“Mainstreet businesses — some of them will close because this pandemic was just too difficult.”

One tough issue voiced by multiple small retailers is about competing with big-box stores that are allowed to stay open during lockdowns.

They sell food and medication, so they can stay open, but they also offer a wide variety of other items, which gives them an unfair advantage over the smaller stores.

“I have mixed feelings,” said Pfiefer of the possible lockdown.

“We need to do it for the community, but by the same token, transmission is not happening in the small businesses.

“It’s not fair that box stores can stay open, especially when we have the ability to control the number of people in our stores.”

With that said, Pfiefer acknowledges her loyal client base that has stuck with her through the pandemic.

McRae said most retailers go out of their way to accommodate their clients.

“People need to reach out to their local retailers,” said McRae. “Before you make the easy decisions, reach out to your local retailers and see what they can do.”

“It seems there’s a lot of tension out there,” he said. “But it’s significantly lower stress shopping at a local store than at a Costco, I’m sure.”

Leah Gerber’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email lgerber@therecord.com

Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record