For six months now businesses have had to endure a rollercoaster of turmoil thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. From shutting down and finding new ways to serve customers, to implementing new and costly safety measures – all the while still limiting the number of customers and hours of operation – the struggles have been many.
The majority of businesses have been able to open – with major and often noticeable changes in place – but there are still some which have yet to get the green light from the province.
Concert venues, amusement parks and the like are those still on the shelf. To a lesser degree, even those in the hospitality industry are experiencing difficulties as they are mandated to maintain social distancing measures that limit the number of customers, sometimes to the point of challenging viability.
Ryan Mallough, director of provincial affairs for Ontario with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), says many businesses are struggling to generate the revenue they’d normally see.
“For the most part, what we’re hearing is that conditions are still pretty tough, and we think recovery is going to be a very long road. Our latest data show that only 26 per cent of businesses in Ontario are making normal revenues for this time of year. It’s been stuck around sort of a 22 to 26 per cent mark for quite some time now. Again, it’s showing that it’s still a tough climate,” said Mallough.“The other thing that we’ve begun to hear too is that businesses are experiencing a reduction in customers and not just that, but a reduction in the amount of money customers are spending. So, we think that there’s still a consumer confidence hump that you have to get over. That is sort of the lay of the land right now. It is good to be open, more businesses are being open, but it’s still a very tough environment.”
One of the biggest concerns he and others at CFIB are hearing involves rent payments, an issue given reduced cash flows.
The provincial government instituted a ban on evicting commercial tenants a few months back, and that program ran until August 31. Now with the program over, there are concerns from businesses they are still not making enough to meet rent. They could be locked out of their spaces as early as September 16. Other concerns include supply chain issues and bringing employees back now that school is reopening.
Because of all these issues, Mallough says one in seven businesses are in danger of closing if the situation does not improve. He says figures from Statistics Canada shows that business closures are double what they were compared to a year ago.
To help businesses, Mallough says the CFIB is looking to governments to extend the rental assistances in place for businesses and make supports more easily accessible for those who need them.
Here in the Waterloo Region, there is a divide between the urban and rural businesses in terms of bouncing back. Mallough says only 20 per cent of businesses in urban settings are showing revenues where they should normally be, this is compared to 37 per cent in rural areas.
Rural areas such as Woolwich and Wellesley townships did not feel the impact of COVID-19 as harshly as urban areas, he added, noting shop-local campaigns have significantly helped businesses in the area.
Such shop-local initiatives can help businesses significantly as they fight to stave off a full closure, especially as we move into the holiday season, he suggested.
“When a business in your community shuts down, it is not just the business owners [who are affected, or] not just the employees at that business that are affected. You are losing something that makes up the soul of your community, something that supports local causes, something that is there for your kids sports, something that has tax dollars that are going towards building your roads and your schools. That just isn’t there when you’re shopping online. But the biggest thing as we’re heading into that holiday season is shop local – $1 spent local stays local. It’s incredibly simple. It’s not just the business owner that will thank you. It’s your entire community,” said Mallough.