A time for heroes still

·7 min read

At last week’s council meeting, Mayor Peckford made a plea: a call out to all North Grenville residents to support local businesses. “I’m sure that anyone watching is extremely aware of the impact of the second disruption on our local business community, on which we rely so heavily. So, really, please do your part.”

There are actually many ways to support our local businesses, even if the shopping experience isn’t the same as it would be in non-COVID times. Many business owners have been very creative in pivoting their businesses to help them survive in this extremely challenging environment.

Sherry-Lynn Stark owns Aphroditi Escape Salon and Spa in downtown Kemptville. Like all spas, they were closed during the first shut-down from March-June, and even when they were allowed to open, Sherry-Lynn says it took clients a while to feel comfortable coming back for their usual treatments. The staff were also very cognisant of public health guidelines, and limited the number of people allowed in the spa at one time. “Business had probably dropped a good 50-55% at that point when we got back up and running again,” she says.

By October, they were into the swing of things and, while it still wasn’t business as usual, more people were feeling comfortable coming back into a spa setting. With business just picking back up, Sherry-Lynn was devastated when she heard they were going to have to close again. “I was like: not again. This cannot be happening again.”

As a service-based business, the only thing that Aphroditi can offer right now is curbside pickup for their skincare and haircare products. Sherry-Lynn has also been creative in putting together some DIY manicure and pedicure kits for people to do at home. “It’s just to bring some sort of revenue into the spa while I’m closed right now. I’m still paying rent, I’m still paying my heat, my hydro, my insurance. All that stuff still needs to get paid.”

While she understands the lockdown and stay-at-home order, Sherry-Lynn doesn’t understand why places like Costco can remain open when a cashier can come into contact with hundreds of people a day. Aphroditi is now an appointment-only based business, and their employees only see one client at a time and wash and sanitize everything between appointments. “I don’t understand the concept of it. We are over and beyond being so careful and abiding by every protocol that we are supposed to be doing. It’s been frustrating, it’s been very, very stressful. Mental health is a big thing right now, and being a small business owner, it’s tough.”

Karen Quigley, of Saltastic on County Road 43, is also frustrated with the government shut down. Saltastic offers halotherapy, which involves sitting in a room where dry aerosol salt is heated, ground up into micro-sized particles, and then dispersed into the air for inhalation. “When we were told to close, I was actually very sad, because this is a respiratory pandemic and we can help people keep their lungs healthy, to maintain them,” Karen says. “We’ve had tons of clients writing to Steve Clark and to the health unit to let [them] know that we should be essential.”

Karen has tried to pivot her business by focusing more on the retail side while they are forced to remain closed. They offer gift cards and all-natural health and wellness products, and can facilitate curbside pick-up and free local delivery. They also have a new Shopify store on their website, where clients can order products and have them shipped directly to their home. “All our products are for your skin, your health,and your stress management. We have a huge CBD line now that is wonderful. It’s one of our top sellers.”

Jac’s Boutique, in the same mall as Saltastic, also had to close their doors to customers in this second shutdown. Owner, Jackie Taylor, was surprised when the second shutdown arrived after Christmas. She thought that, with the low numbers in North Grenville, they might be exempt. “I was really surprised that we were going to be shut down, and frustrated because we are trying to stay afloat. It feels like you are just starting to make ground and then we get shut down again.”

Although operating during a pandemic is a lot of work, with all the extra cleaning and protocols, Jackie would gladly go back to it if they were able to open again. She feels extremely frustrated that North Grenville has been lumped in with the bigger cities in Ontario which are reporting the high numbers. “This is my income. I don’t have CERB to collect. This is it, and we have a lot on the line. It’s scary, it’s stressful. We could lose everything. And the longer this goes on, the more of a chance that is.”

Jackie says they are more than happy to help customers in any way they can, whether it be through orders over the phone, their online store, or a virtual tour of the shop. “I can bring a rack of stuff outside if they want to look at stuff,” she says. “We’re just trying to find any way that we can be helpful in making the process helpful for them.”

Rebecca Cronk of Get Cronk’d Fitness Studio in downtown Kemptville is also doing her best to continue to serve her clients through the shut down. Business was starting to pick up before Christmas, as people were hearing about their safety protocols and feeling more comfortable coming back to the studio. However, Rebecca learned a lot through the first shut down in March and quickly morphed her business into an online studio, offering 10 fitness classes a week, as well as personal training. She also rented out equipment to clients, with recorded workouts so that they could continue with their training on their own time. “We’re making the best of a bad situation.”

Rebecca says business is still slower than usual, with fewer people opting to take classes at home. However, things are going better than they did the first time around; but not knowing how long this shut down is going to last is something that is very concerning for her and the rest of the team at Get Cronk’d. “Every month you keep seeing your negative number grow. And then you get to the point in your head where you’re calculating: if things do go back to normal, how long is it going to take us to dig our way out of that hole?”

Rebecca is frustrated that gyms like hers aren’t considered an essential service. She gets messages regularly from clients saying how much they need their workouts to help with the stresses of daily life. “Part of our charm at the studio is the atmosphere. It’s the community we’ve built where people can come in, kind of say how they’re feeling, and then the other clients help boost them up. That’s all part of the experience.”

To try and keep that community spirit alive, Get Cronk’d is hosting a fun run, similar to what they did in the summer. “Our last run, we had 62 participants and in 28 days we travelled over 6500km”. Registration is $25 and each participant gets a t-shirt. You can choose to walk/run/snowshoe/skate 20km, 40km or 60km. “It’s winter, so people don’t necessarily go outside as much. We kind of want to hibernate, especially now,” Rebecca says. “So, we’re just trying to get people moving.”

Whether it’s online shopping, virtual tours, taking an online class, or participating in a fun challenge, there are so many ways to stay connected and make sure that our local businesses stay afloat now, and into the future. Our local entrepreneurs are working hard to serve the community as best they can, but they need local heroes to help. And that can be you!

Aphroditi Escape Salon and Spa, 103 Clothier Street E. 613-258-3535. www.aphroditiescapespa.com.

Saltastic, 2727 County Road 43. 613-215-0664. www.saltastic.ca.

Jac’s Boutique, 2727 County Road 43. 613-215-0894. www.jacsboutique.com.

Get Cronk’d Fitness Studio, 9 Clothier Street E. 613-713-9413. www.getcronkd.ca.

Hilary Thomson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Grenville Times