Ontario-wide lockdown ‘absolutely devastating’ for many small businesses

Ontario-wide lockdown ‘absolutely devastating’ for many small businesses

For many small businesses in Ontario, the province-wide lockdown that began on Boxing Day is the last straw.

One business that couldn’t survive another lockdown is the Pickering Flea Market in the Greater Toronto Area. After almost half a century, the large indoor market with hundreds of vendors is closing its doors.

“The COVID outbreak has made it very, very hard to operate,” Erik Tamm, general manager of the Pickering Markets, told CTV News.

More than 400 vendors will now have to find a new outlet to sell their goods.

“I’ve grown up with a lot of these people,” Tamm said. “These are people we consider family here that are small business owners, and it’s absolutely devastating to them.”

The lockdown is a move to fight against COVID-19, which has been showing no signs of slowing in the province. But it’s also a blow to many small retailers.

In December, ahead of the province-wide lockdown, the Ontario government announced a new small business support in the form of a one-time grant between $10,000 and $20,000, which businesses can apply for.

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A federal program to assist small businesses, the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA), was extended three times, in July, August, and September. This month, the Ontario government also extended the ban on commercial evictions until Jan. 31 for any businesses that were eligible for CECRA.

But with rent still piling up, and businesses facing fewer sales due to the new lockdown, it’s still not enough for many small retailers.

“For some of them, this will mean the difference between staying in business and going out of business unfortunately,” Bruce Winder, a retail expert, told CTV News.

The lockdown will be in place in southern Ontario until Jan. 23. Provincial measures will lift for northern Ontario on Jan. 9.

Malls and retail stores are closed for in-person shopping — although they can provide curbside pickup — while restaurants can only provide takeout, drive-thru and delivery orders.

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“Small businesses are getting creamed here,” John Borsten told CTV News. “Like, it’s bad.”

Borsten is the owner of five restaurants in Ottawa, and believes it’s “non-sensical” for his city to be under restrictions as stringent as places in Ontario with much higher case levels.

“Just because Toronto has high cases, I don’t understand why they would do that,” he said. “We were happy with [the earlier] system, at least we can see where we can prepare — this came out of nowhere.”

During the lockdown, essential businesses such as supermarkets, pharmacies and retailers that sell primarily food can stay open.

It’s dealt a blow to sales across the whole province.

“Typically on a day like today we would have seen 25 million transactions take place,” said Marvin Ryder, a professor at McMaster University’s Degroote School of Business. “We don’t think we’re going to see half of that, and that’s really going to put a damper on retailers.”

Gyms and fitness facilities are also forced to close their doors.

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That has prompted one gym owner to push back against the Ford government, saying fitness is even more important right now.

“We have a role that we can play, to actively help in the fight against this pandemic, by making sure that people in our community are staying healthy,” Pete Shaw, owner of CrossFit NCR, told CTV News.

Some small businesses are trying to adapt by shifting their sales online, something that has been good for Dr. Disc’s business, a record store in Hamilton.

“We interacted with the community, we have a lot of community support, so I can’t thank our community enough,” Mark Fukawara, owner of Dr. Disc, told CTV News.

For small business owners impacted by business closures, the new COVID-19 vaccines being approved in Canada are the light at the end of this very long tunnel.

They hope that by the summer, life — and business — will be back to normal. 

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