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Stay-at-home order the latest hurdle for local business

At this point in the pandemic, lockdowns are nothing new for business owners. But there’s something different with the latest stay-at-home order, recently extended by another two weeks by the Ford government, in that people are increasingly frustrated by the uncertainty.

“I think that we’re all a little bit more anxious this time around, just because we’re still trying to pay our bills from the previous lockdowns. And anxious because of the spread – the new variant is much worse. Anxious because we’re trying to make sure all of our safety measures and precautions are in place,” said Elmira Home Hardware owner Krista McBay, noting that’s a sentiment shared by some of her colleagues in the Elmira Business Improvement Area (BIA).

“We feel like we’re asking our employees to do more. And everybody’s tired. Everybody’s exhausted. Everybody’s frustrated. We’re noticing a lot of people are, I don’t know how to describe it, just exhausted – I think pure mental and emotional exhaustion.”

Businesses have faced a variable range of rules and regulations, closures and operating changes since the pandemic began more than a year ago. It’s been difficult, with the latest changes adding to the stress, as both the Elmira and St. Jacobs BIAs have noted among members.

Compared to the post-Christmas lockdown, some things remain the same; however, some changes are notable, including in-person sales of only items deemed essential by the provincial government.

The constant switching is difficult, said McBay, noting the current stay-at-home order has brought with it more adjustments for business operators.

Elmira Home Hardware owner Krista McBay [Damon MacLean]

“Essential versus non-essential, that’s the biggest confusion for this one,” she said, noting customers have different takes on that. “If my toilet explodes, I’m going to call that essential. But under the government regulations, that’s considered a non-essential item. You know how difficult it is to have somebody explained to you over the phone, or by fax or by email, what they need when their toilet is overflowing? Not everyone is a plumber.” 

Luckily, McBay can offer some in-store purchasing since they are designated a grocery store with the recent launching of the M&M Express Shop, but for some businesses in town, this third lockdown may just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Most retailers have had to close their doors, offering only curbside pickup at most.

“You’re going to see some [businesses] not open up again. Sadly, I think that some of them have – I don’t want to name any names, but I think that there’s a few there’s a couple I know of off the top that have just … they just can’t do it anymore. They’re just done. I’ve also seen in the community people who are just deciding that they’re refocusing on what’s important in life, and can’t do this anymore. So, they’re looking to retire or they’re looking to change their piece of life completely. It’s just, feels like there’s something settling over the whole community,” she said. 

The St. Jacobs BIA is experiencing some similar struggles among its members.

“[It’s] difficult for all businesses, especially small businesses, with the shutdown, stay at home order and all of that, retail isn’t able to be open anymore. So, it’s just relying on online purchases, and curbside pickup. If it’s restaurant, it’s takeout, which is always a challenge for restaurants,” said coordinator Carrie Briscoe.

“With the warmer weather, it’s a little bit different than the winter season, when people weren’t really coming out. We are obviously as a village not encouraging people to be out and about, however, people want to be outside. And so, if they want to come and shop safely and also get takeout, then that’s great. So that’s been happening a little bit. It’s very difficult for small business in general.”

Fortunately, the businesses in the village are not currently facing the risk of closures, and some new shops are even popping up, she added

With the ongoing uncertainty, Briscoe asks for continued community support, which she says is more vital now than during the former lockdown.

“All I can say is it’s a scary time to own a small business. The third shutdown is not ideal and we’re hoping that things get better for the summer and the fall and that there isn’t another shutdown or lockdown in the future because it’s really detrimental to the business. It’s been over a year now of this. A lot of drops in sales and things for businesses. So, we just continue to encourage people to be safe but also support local as much as possible and not shop at those big box stores if they can avoid that.”

The BIA in Elmira is also calling for patience during these trying times.

“Hang in there. Just hang in there. Be patient with us. We’re doing our best to make sure that you get what you need. And when we come back, we’ll come back strong. I just hope it’s sooner than later,” said McBay.

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