By Chris Drost
With the recent move by the Province of Ontario to return to a modified Stage Two in its ongoing efforts to protect the hospital system, business owners in Haliburton County are feeling the impact. The Haliburton Echo reached out to a selection of businesses to learn how they are coping with the recent announcement.
“We had sort of made the decision in the fall not to open up indoor dining this winter, other than some Christmas parties that had already been booked,” says Ryan Yates, who is transitioning to ownership of the Bonnie View Inn, while long-time owner Andrea Hagarty assists.
Last year they had geared up for winter dining and ended up with a freezer and fridges full of food and staff expecting to work. Not wanting to repeat that, they made the decision not to open the dining room this winter. “People who come here want to eat and not go offsite. This has impacted bookings but people are more understanding. It has definitely been tough. The new closures don’t impact much except the dining and use of things such as the lounge and hang-out areas,” says Yates.
“We have lots of stuff do outside. We just need a bit more snow,” he adds.
The biggest thing through the opening and closing is the lack of advance notice. “The hardest thing has been staff. Some had to go on EI. We always had that as a seasonal business, but more so now,” says Yates.
Bonnie View Inn has been able to take advantage of some of the government supports but according to Yates, the one disappointing thing is that because they are an accommodator, they are deemed “essential.” “Technically we can be open so we couldn’t get all the support. Last year while we were allowed to be open during the ‘stay in place’ order, we had no business. We are only eligible on the restaurant side,” he says.
This time, Yates hopes they can collect something while the restaurant is closed. The wage subsidies have really helped and have been a huge support. “It is tough to navigate but all you can do is the best you can.”
Last year 90 per cent of their accommodation business was domestic. The hope is that the international market will eventually return. “For us, it has not been all doom and gloom. Summer and fall were great,” he says.
With the temporary closing of fitness operations, owner of Just Movement Fitness in Minden Meghan Cox has some strong objections. “Continuing to take harmful measures that do not, and have not worked for almost two years is not only detrimental to businesses and humanity, but the definition of insanity. Especially when the ‘rules’ do not make sense and only seem to target a few select sectors where there is no evidence to support closing,” Cox says.
Cox says that for her business in particular as a health facility where people come to be healthy, health matters for combatting and reducing all illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, COVID-19 and more. “Why is the government and health officials not taking about this? Promoting and encouraging health and things that support wellness like exercise, proper nutrition, reducing junk food, stress reduction techniques, healthy sleep cycles etc.,” she says.
Cox also asks why they have to be completely closed and not able to operate in a modified capacity.
“I haven’t recovered from the first closure let alone the second, third etc. Many of my colleagues have completely closed their businesses due to lockdowns. We can’t survive continuous closures. It’s not feasible,” she says.
Cox has not received any financial help from the government. “A financial loan is not helpful for small businesses. Who pays the loan back when the business is closed or goes under due to mandates and closures? They make it sound like there is help available but many small businesses do not qualify or it is a loan which is to be paid back,” she says.
Looking forward, Cox says she has had small number of clients who have been able to pivot to online training with her when she is closed, but not everyone can or will use the online platform and it’s not enough to meet all the overhead expenses of owning a business and keeping certifications up to date, let alone her own personal expenses.
“The reality of it is that if they don’t find other options for combatting COVID-19, many small businesses will close indefinitely,” Cox says.
Over at Sir Sam’s Ski and Ride, general manager Randy Pielsticker is grateful that so far this year has been better than last. “Compared to last year, this year is awesome,” he says. They are typically open 80 days of the year and last year were only open 35 days. Between Dec. 18 and Jan. 3, they were only closed on Christmas Day, as planned, so they were open for the entire Christmas break.
Beyond COVID-19, staff shortages have been an issue, along with staff isolations. Generally, some years they have lots of snow and they are able to open over the entire holiday, but sometimes two or three days of rain can shut them down.
With the new regulations it means guests have to stay outside. “We have adapted by making more firepits and adding outdoor heaters. Food is offered outside by take-out and on the weekends, we run outdoor barbecues,” says Pielsticker. They have established a limit on hill capacity to ensure social distancing is maintained. “Outdoor capacity is running at 50 per cent compared to a non-COVID-19 year,” he says. This has affected revenue.
Last year Sir Sam’s took advantage of the wage subsidy program. This year, they have recently changed ownership so they are dealing with those changes at the moment.
“We have benefited most from the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce supplying us with rapid tests,” says Pielsticker. It has made it possible to test staff regularly, and when someone tests positive, to test their co-workers. “We have still lost some staff to isolation but having testing available in the workplace has been invaluable,” he adds.