Lockdown: Small businesses scramble again to counter COVID and its variants

By William McGinn

Lindsay’s Ctrl V will be one of many businesses closed during the lockdown.

Another lockdown is upon Ontario due to an acceleration of COVID-19 variants – and two local businesses are facing different realities because of it.

At 1:30 this afternoon, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the lockdown will begin just after midnight on April 3. This will not be a stay-at-home lockdown. Schools will remain open but for at least the next four weeks, various local businesses are to be subjected to the similar sort of measures already in place in hotspot regions.

Lacey Ball, owner of Olde Mill Candle Co, and Olde Mill Primitives.

Lacey Ball is the owner of two downtown Lindsay businesses — Old Mille Primitives, which opened in 2012, and Olde Mill Candle Co., which opened in January 2020. The newer store has been up against virus restrictions for nearly its entire life.

Ball’s company is able to stay open, qualifying under the retail businesses with a 25 per cent capacity limit.

She is grateful she will be able to stay open alongside her five employees but she also said this shutdown will be more difficult than the lockdown that took place last Christmas season.

“This is because last time, after we reopened in May, we had about eight months to prepare for another lockdown,” she said, “so that was enough time to be busy and get our feet back on the ground.”

This time it’s only been about seven weeks, said Ball. “This one is going to hurt more because there hasn’t been enough time to get revenue back up.”

Ball also talked about how downtown reconstruction made their situation even more tentative than other small businesses located elsewhere.

Kevin Stapley, owner of Lindsay’s Ctrl V virtual reality arcade, opened in 2019. For Stapley, the arcade falls under the category of gaming establishments, and they are not permitted to be open for the shutdown.

In the summer of 2020, Ryan Brooks, CEO and co-founder of Ctrl V sent an email to Ctrl V users expressing worries their doors could permanently close by the end of that year. The company was able to pull through, though, but Stapley said “that doesn’t mean we haven’t been struggling.”

“We are a new business, and we’re looking at about a year and a half’s worth of growth lost. We’ve been just maintaining ourselves just trying to keep the doors open.”

Ford said in his press conference he will be keeping Ontario small business support grants of up to $20,000 open, and he urged all eligible businesses to apply. Both Ball and Stapley were able to get these same grants in the past, but not the full $20,000.

Ball, though, feels some optimism for the future and said Ford’s belief that vaccinations will roll out to have a good 2021 summer somehow helps.

“I don’t know where my optimism comes from, because we opened in January 2020 and it’s literally just been a cliff dive since then, but I feel very optimistic because this is one of the first times where he (Ford) has shown optimism, and I think he’s very careful with what he tells the public.”

Despite the variants, says Ball, “I definitely think by the summer things will be looking up.”

Stapley said even though they have to close for now, “we’re doing better certainly than some businesses are in terms of being able to stay solvent and keep ourselves together, thanks largely to the government supports…these have really been a saviour for us.”

Ford said in his press conference today that 2.3 million vaccines have been administered in Ontario.

The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit’s Dr. Ian Gemmill said in a media release that another province-wide shutdown “isn’t easy for anyone, especially after more than a year of pandemic restrictions.”

The acting medical officer of health said “other areas of the province are being overwhelmed again with cases and we all need to do our part to protect others and to ensure our hospitals and health care system are not overwhelmed.”

The new province-wide shutdown puts on hold the rules that were in place under the Yellow-Protect COVID-19 colour category in which the health unit had been in previously. Among the stricter measures contained in the province-wide shutdown:

  • Everyone is asked to limit their trips outside the home to only essentials.
  • Gathering indoors with anyone you do not live with is strongly discouraged.
  • Outdoor gatherings are limited to five people (physical distancing must be maintained).
  • Most grocery stores, pharmacies and essential services can stay open, but are limited to 50% capacity. Other retailers (including malls) can also stay open but are limited to 25% capacity. Curbside pickup and delivery are available.
  • Restaurants can be open only for takeout, delivery and drive through. Indoor and outdoor dining is not allowed.
  • Gyms, fitness clubs, movie theatres, personal care services (like barbershops, spas, hair salons and tattoo studios) must close.
  • Schools and daycares remain open, but day camps must close.

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