COVID-19 having 'massive' impact on small businesses

Justine Martin has been operating Guilty Pleasures Bakeshop in downtown Sudbury for the last two years. But as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps customers away, Martin worries her business may not survive. 

As customers keep their distance, business owners get creative, but worry about staying afloat

Even as some businesses remain open, many are feeling the effects of the COVOD-19 pandemic. (CBC)

Justine Martin has been operating Guilty Pleasures Bakeshop in downtown Sudbury for the last two years. But as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps customers away, Martin worries her business may not survive. 

Martin says she has already seen "massive impacts" on her business since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Sudbury last week, and as people follow recommendations to keep their distance from one another, and limit social gatherings.

"We've had almost all of our cake orders cancelled. The ones that haven't been cancelled have been significantly downsized,"  Martin said.

"We're getting some cancellations for even in May right now. And overall our bookings and our walk-ins have been down significantly. So right now we're looking at a lost revenue of over 50 per cent from where we should have been last week, and even more going forward."

As a new business, Martin said she'd been focused on re-investing into her business, and could only survive a few weeks if she is forced to close her doors. 

Martin is just one of many small business owners in northeastern Ontario worried about how they'll keep afloat as people stay home. 

Online orders

Martin has been attempting to keep her business going as best she can. She's added extra cleaning, and has been looking for ways "to lean into what our customers's needs are."

That includes setting up an online store where people can order cupcakes and other products. 

"People can send those to their loved ones who are under quarantine, or they can order them for themselves, for, you know, their kids while they're on their three week break and have a little bit of reprieve there."

If she has to shut her bakery doors, Justine Martin worries she may not be able to keep her business going. (Sandy Siren/CBC)

For another downtown Sudbury business, The Alibi Room, alternative methods of sale aren't an option. After a busy Saturday night, owner Kyle Marcus decided to shut the bar on Sunday, in the interest of reducing large gatherings, while waiting to make a decision on whether he would reopen later in the week. But as he watches the news, he knows his bar will likely be closed for several weeks. 

While he emphasized that he's most concerned about those who are sick, and protecting people's health, he said closing his bar is a difficult decision to make.

"It's terrible to know pretty much what the outcome of this is going to be. And for us in our industry, that's absolutely no income until this is over. And the prospect of that is absolutely terrifying," Marcus said.  

'Day by day'

At Bella's Boutique children's clothing store in Timmins, owner Holly Doyon said she hasn't seen as much of a direct impact on her business yet, likely because there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in that city. 

The owner of Bella's Boutique in Timmins is still seeing customers coming into the store, but she worries about how her business could be affected in the coming weeks. (Bella's Boutique/Facebook)

She's ramped up cleaning, and said she's taking things "day by day," but she does worry about what could happen to her business in the days and weeks ahead. 

"To be honest, if I were to close for three weeks, I honestly don't know if I would be able to come out of that."  

'Light at the end of the tunnel,' says Chamber

Back in Sudbury, the chair of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce said he believes businesses will be able to get through the challenges they are currently facing, particularly as the federal and provincial governments announce more measures to assist employees as well as business owners. 

Bryan Welsh said the chamber will work to make sure local businesses understand what additional funds they may have access to. 

"There are avenues to help out the small business owner and also the employees, to make sure that they're not really in dire straights," Welsh said. 

"I think there's some light at the end of the tunnel."

At her bakery, Justine Martin is trying to keep a positive attitude as well. She hopes people will find ways to support small businesses, even if that means doing so from a distance. She suggests buying gift cards for future use, or planning events that could be months away, but would mean paying some deposits now, to give operators some cash-flow. 

"If a bulk of us go bankrupt all at once, we'll suffer significant economic, social and cultural losses that will have a really long lasting impact on our communities," Martin said. 

About the Author

Sarah MacMillan is a reporter with CBC Sudbury. She previously worked with CBC P.E.I. You can contact her at