After more than 30 years in operation, the Touch of Class Day Spa became a casualty of the pandemic as it closed its doors for the final time March 5.
Owner Sharon Rowden cited the pandemic and a lack of government support for her decision to close her Haliburton business, which she has overseen the past nine years.
Rowden, who also works as a financial administrator with Haliburton Forest, said she could no longer afford to keep the spa going.
“With this type of business, there’s not a lot of government assistance. I’m basically working on another full-time job to cover the expenses here for it to be closed. It’s not business sensible to keep going,” she said. “Even when you are open, because it is so limited, it’s really hard to make money.”
The spa worked on a commission basis, Rowden said, with its staff considered self-employed. She said it did not fit more typical stores or services targeted by support programs.
“It’s highly disappointing how the government didn’t help all kinds of business,” Rowden said. “Should have done it better – because then I wouldn’t be in this position.”
According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s annual economic report, only 21 per cent of provincial businesses expressed confidence in Ontario’s economic outlook. Within the Muskoka-Kawartha region, 64 per cent of businesses reported shrinking in 2020. Rowden said the spa was in good shape before COVID hit.
Still, she reflected positively about taking over the spa nine years ago as a former customer.
“Up until COVID, it’s been an amazing journey. We’ve met a lot of great people, made a lot of friends, helped a lot of people out who needed a pick-me-up or just some pampering,” she said.
Neither the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce or the Haliburton BIA could identify any other local businesses that had closed permanently of late due to the pandemic. Statistics Canada has reported nationally, after massive business sector losses in the first three months of the pandemic lockdown - peaking at 113,730 in April 2020 - business openings have outpaced closures in the last five months with data available (July-November 2020).
Rowden also served on the BIA board, but can no longer with her business closing. BIA administrator Angelica Ingram said Rowden was an outstanding volunteer for them.
“The BIA is always saddened to hear of a downtown business closing its doors, especially in these circumstances. COVID has brought on a new set of challenges for our downtown businesses, and unfortunately, some will not be able to survive,” Ingram said. “I was an avid supporter of Touch of Class and always enjoyed going there.
“It’s up to the community to support our local businesses as much as possible to ensure their economic recovery during these challenging times,” Ingram added.
Rowden expressed appreciation to the community and the send-off received as she bids the business farewell.
“The compliments from people, kind of what makes it a little easier,” she said. “Thank everyone for all their years of dedication and support and love.”
Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander