Business

Stay-at-home order coupled with lockdown a double blow to small business owners

OTTAWA —
With Ontario’s stay-at-home order now in effect, small businesses are facing yet another challenge to staying afloat.

“I mean, it’s a struggle. It’s a real struggle every day,” says Stéphanie Mathieson, co-owner of Art-Is-In Bakery in Ottawa.

Ontario has been in a provincewide shutdown since Dec. 26, 2020, but the new stay-at-home order that came into effect on Thursday has added another layer of difficulty to business operations.

Those offering food have been deemed essential in Ontario, but it’s far from business as usual.

“Business is very low but it’s existing. So, we’re blessed. Our platform is mostly online now. We’re working the kinks out. It’s a totally new format,” Mathieson says.

The government has allowed non-essential businesses, including hardware stores, to offer curbside pickup only, but some owners say that cuts into impulse sales.

“If someone were to come in to buy leaf bags for example, we’re losing the potential of them buying maybe a pair of gloves, or a bottle of Windex or maybe a can of paint,” says Paolo Giannetti, partner at Preston Hardware in Ottawa.

The stay-at-home order isn’t just sparking renewed criticism, it’s created confusion, too.

Based on the province’s current rules, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says many businesses are questioning whether to open at all, even if they are legally allowed.

“The new rules that Ontario just put into place are absolutely ridiculous,” says CFIB President Dan Kelly. “On one hand, they’re telling consumers they’re not allowed to leave home except for essential purposes. However, they’re also telling retailers, ‘Here are your new hours for non-essential retail items.’ Business owners are throwing up their hands saying, ‘What is this?’”

Economists project many businesses that have closed during the latest lockdown may never reopen.

“This is going to hurt proportionately small business,” says Ian Lee, Associate Professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business. “They have fewer resources. They’re hanging on by their fingernails since March and April. So, I think the net affect of this, especially on small business is going to be devastating.”

On Friday, Ontario launched its Small Business Support Grant, which provides a minimum of $10,000 to a maximum of $20,000 to eligible small businesses that have had to restrict their operations due to the provincewide shutdown.

The business must demonstrate they experienced a revenue decline of at least 20 per cent when comparing monthly revenue in April 2019 and April 2020.

New businesses established since April 2019 are also eligible, provided they meet the other eligibility criteria.

The money can be used in whatever way makes the most sense for the applicant.

“For example, some businesses could use the support to pay employee wages, while others may need support maintaining their inventory,” the provincial government says.

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