Kitchener-Waterloo

Local businesses grappling with 'huge' financial hit from COVID-19

Businesses in Waterloo region say they're laying off workers and worrying about the future, as social distancing measures continue to ramp up.

Bills and rental payments a worry as end of the month approaches

Jennifer Appleby Vines (right) and Sara McMurphy are behind the Crumby Cookie Dough Company. Appleby Vines says online delivery orders have helped compensate for a drop in wholesale orders, but worries about the future. (Dawne Taylor-Gilders/Uptown Waterloo BIA)

Many local businesses say they've already been hit hard by the financial repercussions of COVID-19 and are worried about paying the rent as the end of the month approaches. 

In recent weeks, government and health officials have introduced escalating measures aimed at discouraging people from socializing in large groups and making unnecessary errands. As of Monday, the province announced all "non-essential" stores and services will have to close completely.

While business owners agree these steps have been necessary to slow the spread of the virus, they've also been a major financial strain. 

Ajoa Mintah owns Four All and says she had to shutter her new storefront soon after opening as a safety measure. (Submitted by Ajoa Mintah)

For Jennifer Appleby Vines, co-owner of the Waterloo-based Crumby Cookie Dough Company, March was supposed to be the month she would finally celebrate the opening of her business' new location.

Instead, the grand opening party was cancelled to protect her customers' safety, and many of her wholesale customers have either scaled back their orders, or stopped buying entirely.

"We've got a couple of grocery clients who are still ordering, but obviously not at the level they were," said Appleby Vines. "That's a huge, huge impact on our bottom line, just as we've moved into a place where we're paying more rent."

Ajoa Mintah, owner of Four All Ice Cream, is in a similar position. She opened a new storefront in Uptown Waterloo earlier this month – and had to close it almost two weeks later.

Mintah says she's also laid off all of her workers, and has been making deliveries herself to use up her last bit of stock and make enough money to cover her rent.

"It's kind of scary," she said.

Tina Sharpe co-owns the Living Fresh floral company in downtown Kitchener along with her husband. Earlier this month the couple opted to close the business to protect themselves and their customers' safety.  

"We're kind of in a predicament now because there's not a lot of income coming in," said Sharpe. "We also … had to lay our employee off, which was heart wrenching."

Harold and Tina Sharpe are the owners of the Living Fresh floral company in downtown Kitchener. They say most businesses on their block are 'suffering' due to the COVID-19. (Submitted by Tina Sharpe)

Rent relief wanted

The federal government has announced an $82 billion aid package to help Canadians and business owners through the pandemic.

Some programs include wage subsidies and increased access to credit, as well as the expansion of Employment Insurance programs for people who wouldn't otherwise qualify.

Appleby Vines has been watching closely to see what help might be available for her business and is waiting to hear more details. She said she doesn't want to take on more credit at this time, and would prefer to see some grant programs or rent relief.

"From a commercial point of view, that would be a game changer if the government was able to address that in some way for businesses," she said.

Mintah and Sharpe agreed. Both say their rent payments are a significant pressure right now – especially with the end of the month quickly approaching.

All three business owners agree the community has been helpful in providing support, by ordering products online or buying gift cards.

Still, Appleby Vines said she wonders if that level of goodwill is sustainable, especially as people lose their jobs and have less money to spend on extras.

Sharpe said she knows there are some local marketing pieces in the works to boost businesses in her area, but thinks more substantive measures need to be taken quickly.

"We need to put our thinking caps on and see if we can come up with another plan just to help everybody," said Sharpe. "Because yeah, we're suffering, but we're not the only ones."

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