Wary Ontario small businesses ‘feeling like Charlie Brown and the football’ amid reopening’s tentative first steps

As he goes through the now painfully-familiar steps of reopening his gym after a lockdown, Paul Brown wonders just how much more he can take.

“This has been devastating. There’s really no other word for it, ”said Brown, whose midtown boxing-focused gym was getting a trickle of customers Monday. Ontario opened up indoor dining, gyms, movie theaters and event spaces after they’d been closed since early January to slow the spread of COVID.

January is our busiest time of year, and we were closed. Normally we get a lot of people in because of New Year’s resolutions, ”said Brown, who estimates he’s bringing in just 25 percent of his usual income, between his gym and his hair salon.

Brown is still waiting for a $ 10,000 small business grant promised by the Ontario government in early January to materialize (the provincial government said the grant money will be paid to eligible businesses in February). He’s also still struggling to stay afloat after his application for a federal COVID loan was turned down because he’d forgotten to put down his landlord’s contact information.

“Instead of just rejecting it, they could have called and asked me,” Brown said. “They’re set up to reject things too easily.”

Small business owners are at the brink after on and off shutdowns for almost two years, said Ryan Mallough, Ontario regional director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“Realistically, people should not have been able to get through this again. They did. But this has to be the last one. It just has to, ”said Mallough, adding that the provincial government needs to get its latest aid money out to businesses as soon as possible.

“The $ 10,000 grant that was promised needs to start flowing now,” said Mallough, adding that the average small business in Ontario has taken on an additional $ 170,000 in debt to weather COVID’s economic toll. “The debt has been climbing, revenue has been falling, and consumer confidence might not be back for a while.”

The restaurant industry has also taken a pounding from repeated COVID lockdowns, and is hoping this is the last time they’ll have to reopen, said James Rilett, vice president of Central Canada for Restaurants Canada.

“People are hopeful, but they’re feeling like Charlie Brown and football, so they’re not counting on anything,” said Rilett. “Nobody’s ordering three months of inventory.”

Late January and early February aren’t exactly a busy time of year even at the best of times, Rilett added. Still, though, many Restaurant Canada members have been seeing reservation books fill up in the days leading up to the reopening.

“There have been a lot of missed birthdays and anniversaries. People are ready to get out there again, ”Rilett said, before noting – with chagrin – that there are still some limits. “The reservation books fill up a lot faster when you’re only allowed 50 per cent capacity.”

Moviegoers are also ready to start seeing things on the big screen again, said Cineplex spokesperson Sarah Van Lange.

“Ticket sales have been strong and we are thrilled to be welcoming back our guests to experience films the way they are meant to be seen,” said Van Lange, who stressed that cinemas are following provincial health regulations to a T.

“Our team has proven that we can safely operate during the pandemic,” said Van Lange, adding that theaters are showing some movies which opened just prior to the holiday closedown, including “The Matrix Resurrections” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home . ”


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