Nova Scotia

New businesses in downtown Sydney concerned about life after COVID-19

Small businesses in downtown Sydney, N.S., are feeling the crunch of COVID-19, but are finding ways to cope with what is described as the "new normal."

'Businesses just starting up are falling through the cracks,' says co-owner of Island Folk Cider House

The taproom at the Island Folk Cider House in Sydney, N.S., was supposed to be open by mid-May, but the business is now looking at doing deliveries and selling through the NSLC because of COVID-19. (Island Folk Cider House)

Small businesses in downtown Sydney, N.S., are feeling the crunch of COVID-19, but are finding ways to cope with what is described as the "new normal."

Public health measures designed to help stop the spread of COVID-19 mean restaurants in Nova Scotia are restricted to takeout and delivery, while bars are shut down.

"We're pretty much in a holding pattern trying to see what's going to happen," said Cory Blundon, a co-owner of Selkie's Neighbourhood Diner and The Mermaid Food Truck.

Both operations have shut down. Blundon said the diner was in the final stages of renovations before opening and was set to open in late March on the same weekend the province declared a state of emergency. The food truck would also have been in operation soon.

Blundon said he has been pleasantly surprised by the ease of applying for government programs and benefits.

He said he and his partner have applied and received money through the Canada emergency response benefit and are taking part of the province's rent-deferral program. The next step for the new business is to apply for the small business loan guarantee program through the province.

At the Island Folk Cider House, its tasting room was scheduled to be open by mid-May, but the business has been forced to pivot in another direction because of COVID-19, just as its first batch of cider nears completion.

"We're looking at other ways to generate revenue like [selling through] the NSLC and also doing home delivery across Cape Breton," said co-founder Jill McPherson.

She worries her business and many other startups are going to suffer.

"Businesses just starting up are falling through the cracks," McPherson said. "The issue we're having is fixed costs are the same, but projections for revenue have decreased drastically."

Blundon and McPherson say they have been comforted by community support, with many patrons asking for ways to help out and support them.

Support options

For local support, Nova Scotia Business Inc. has put together a section on its website that updates daily and shows available provincial and federal programs.

NSBI president and CEO Laurel Broten said unique challenges are being presented to many businesses and several are finding ways to cope.

"It is a very challenging time to plan," she said.

Her best advice is to ask for help, adding business agencies, banks and government departments are eager to offer support.

Broten said it's important for businesses to know the environment post-pandemic might be very different than the one before it, and everyone will need to learn new ways to cope in the coming months and years.

After COVID-19

McPherson is hopeful Cape Breton hospitality will help all small businesses through the dark days.

Blundon said he and his partner continue to look for ways to eventually get their two businesses up and running again, saying the best solution is for residents to support their local businesses.

Once restrictions have been lifted and life returns to a new normal, Blundon suggests having what he calls a "support local frenzy."

"I think we need to have an old fashioned Cape Breton party at every food establishment on this island as soon as we can safely do so," he said.