Saskatchewan

Independent shops, organizations close in Sask. as economic uncertainty prevails

Community organizations and independent businesses are closing their doors and shutting down services as Saskatchewan people attempt to flatten the curve of COVID-19.

Limitations on gatherings and social distancing abundant in bid to flatten curve of COVID-19

Community organizations, like the iconic Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon, and other small businesses are closing their doors as locals try to flatten the curve of COVID-19. (Brian Rodgers/CBC)

Saskatchewan's independent shops and community organizations are shutting down as people stay home in an attempt to flatten the curve of COVID-19.

Most closures to date are temporary, but some are forever. 

"This kind of came out of nowhere and sideswiped us and forced our hand," said Tim Rogers, who is co-owner of the now-closed Capitol Restaurant and Cocktail Bar in Regina. 

Plans were already underway to close and rebrand as business had been unstable — but not quite so soon.

Local business owner Tim Rogers says COVID-19 prompted the early closure of the Capitol Restaurant and Cocktail Bar. (Matt Howard/CBC)

On Monday, Rogers said he realized continuing to operate didn't make sense as COVID-19 precautions and measures ramped up in Saskatchewan. 

"It was a very emotional day, " Rogers said. 

Rogers said it's a fine line for business owners like him who are trying to navigate the public health concerns while also trying to pay staff and bills.

A closed noticed hangs in the door of Regina's Capitol Restaurant and Cocktail Bar. Tim Rogers said he'll be keeping an eye on potential financial aid for small businesses. (Matt Howard/CBC)

The restaurant was open for five years. Rogers is trying to be optimistic as he expedites the opening of a new burger bar despite the economic uncertainty. 

"Nobody really has any answers, aside from let's make sure we take care of each other." 

Iconic Broadway Theatre closes doors 

Many restaurants, pubs and shops have been affected by the COVID-19 response, as have local salons, yoga studios, fitness centres, coffee shops and theatres.

Saskatoon's community-owned Broadway Theatre has suspended all of its operations for the foreseeable future as public gatherings — the heart of the place — are barred. 

"It's not just the core of our business, it is our business," said Kirby Wirchenko, executive and artistic director at Broadway Theatre. 

The space builds community, drives connection and brings people together, he said, so the closure "affects everybody." 

He said they weren't mandated to close, but did so to give staff time to apply for employment insurance and so they can open strong when the COVID-19 distancing dissipates. 

Even then, the theatre won't be ready to hit the ground running because of programming needs. 

"Whatever this magical day is that we do get to reopen, I think you add two to three months to that day before we actually start cycling revenue back."

Kirby Wirchenko said COVID-19 pandemic has shown him that 'we are very reliant on each other, my small business, your medium business, your corporation on the corner... we all need each other.’ (Brian Rodgers/CBC)

He said under current conditions, nobody can gather for things that have meaning, and hopes people flock in droves to the theatre once the social distancing subsides. 

Wirchenko said he doesn't plan to take programming online, because there's no magic in that method. 

"We know that what we do is very important in this day and age,"  he said. "When this ends, it will be even more important, because people will miss it." 

Small businesses see drop in sales 

"The early impacts have been massive to the small business sector," said Marilyn Braun-Pollon, who is with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in Saskatchewan.

Braun-Pollon said half of CFIB members surveyed have already seen a drop in sales amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She called it "alarming" that one-quarter of small firms surveyed said they wouldn't survive longer than a month if income dropped by 50 per cent. 

Braun-Pollon applauded steps taken so far by the federal government. Still, she called for more action as local businesses across the country head into "uncharted territory."

"Nobody wants to close their doors, I mean we're entrepreneurs. We love doing this and also this is our livelihood," said Cassie Ozog, who is co-owner of the eco-friendly general store Mortise and Tenon in Regina. 

The business is temporarily closing its brick-and-mortar storefront in an effort to help flatten the curve

Ozog said the shop is pivoting to a new online shop to keep sales up and keep serving the community. While their services are smaller than normal, the business is still paying staff. 

"They're trying to make their own ends meet right now and they counted on income from working on our store," Ozog said. 

Cassie Ozog said the decision to close the shop was far from easy. (Mortise and Tenon Shop/Facebook)

She said it's hard to tell how the new model will go, but Ozog said it will be sustainable so long as customers do their best to still support independent shops.

No safety nets

Small business-ownership comes with some harsh realities.

"We don't have any safety nets," said Mark Heise, president of Rebellion Brewing Co.

The taproom and brewery in Regina remains open, although Heise says it's anything but business as usual with numbers down. 

He called on government officials to look to other regions affected by COVID-19, to see what works for supporting small businesses during the pandemic. 

"We have the advantage of being a little bit behind the times, so we just have to look at what everyone else is doing." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kendall Latimer

Journalist

Kendall Latimer is a Saskatchewan-based reporter for CBC News. Story idea? Let's connect: kendall.latimer@cbc.ca.

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