As the province plans to ease restrictions on person to person interactions for businesses starting tomorrow (Friday), Business Improvement Area (BIA) organizations are putting together a game plan to kickstart revenue when the time comes.
The Ontario BIA Association (OBIAA) has brought forward eight steps the federal and provincial governments should keep in mind to support local businesses while pandemic restrictions are eased.
“The impacts of the third lockdown have been significant as businesses make the difficult decision to go deeper into debt or close permanently,” said Kay Matthews, executive director of OBIAA. “We need a new playbook, one that lights the way for rapid responsible recovery.”
The eight steps outlined by the OBIAA include a mental health and addiction strategy that will help address the issues within communities; reintroducing capacity limits for in-person shopping; allowing patios and outdoor dining to re-open; providing tools needed to all open small businesses to screen their customers for COVID-19 antigens; continuing to aggressively and efficiently vaccinate residents and move up the timing for the second vaccine; providing core funding to main streets and BIAs to build key infrastructure required to welcome residents back; working to continue the Digital Main Street grants program for a minimum of two years; and providing law enforcement support to businesses as they implement pandemic mandates.
“Main Street businesses share the government’s desire to keep Ontarians’ healthy, and main street businesses have shown a great ability to adapt their businesses to keep people safe,” said Matthews
For local businesses in Woolwich, the steps would be a much needed helping hand after more than a year of struggle.
“Those [businesses] who could adapt to curb side or delivery have been able to cope, but not prosper by any means,” said Edward Denyer, chair of the St. Jacobs BIA. “Those whose businesses are in-person and service oriented have suffered excessively and in many cases it has been fatal.”
Denyer said he would like to see the province level the playing field and better support struggling businesses as they dust off their counters and unlock their doors to the public once again.
“It would be best if all businesses were being treated equally and were provided with commensurate assistance,” said Denyer. “It would also be important to continue and enhance the assistance options that had been available, as ramp up to the new normal occurs, this will be more taxing on those who are resource deprived due to lack of sales income.”
A healthy and diverse main street is more important for municipalities than most realize. With local municipalities relying on the businesses generated on their main streets to fund infrastructure projects and town upkeep.
“As goes the Main Street, so goes most of the economy,” said Matthews.
“Canada is made of many small businesses which represent all walks of life and which provide all types of service,” said Denyer. “They are the fiber of every healthy and prosperous community so we need to help them back to stability, which in turn will help the residential community to find the new normal that we all want and need.”
With many looking at increased vaccination rates and fewer restrictions as a light at the end of the tunnel, Denyer explains that the scars of these shutdowns will linger with businesses far past getting back to normal.
“I do believe that this pandemic has created so much change that things will be done differently,” said Denyer. “In many cases hardship has brought business to reassess what it used to do, to change the things that were not efficient nor effective and to concentrate on developing better processes for the future so that this type of event can be mitigated with more positive results.”