Small businesses send message to Ontario government over 'unfair treatment' during Toronto's lockdown

Business Improvement Areas across the city asked their members to stand outside their storefronts at noon on Friday in protest of the "unfair treatment" of small businesses during the province’s modified 28-day lockdown in Toronto. 

'If you cannot open, you cannot make money. If you cannot make money, you cannot survive,' business owner says

Small businesses took a stand Friday (literally) by standing outside of their shops. Their hope was to draw attention to the way they're being treated during Ontario's lockdown for the city of Toronto. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Inder Jandoo says he and other small businesses are facing a "very, very drastic" challenge right now: trying to stay financially afloat amid COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in Toronto. 

"If you cannot open, you cannot make money. If you cannot make money, you cannot survive," said Jandoo, who runs Sonu Saree, a women's clothing store in Little India.

During Diwali — a time of the year that usually brings a surplus of patrons to his shop — Jandoo said business was down 70 per cent. A few weeks later, the city went into lockdown, limiting his service to curbside pickup or delivery only.

"Small businesses, which are the backbone of society and this economy, we should be allowed to open," he said. 

That's why Jandoo — along with dozens of store owners and supports — lined Danforth Avenue on Friday, holding signs detailing how long they've been in business and how many employees they've lost since the pandemic. 

It's all part of a citywide initiative organized by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) — a non-profit umbrella organization working with the 84 BIAs across the city — to protest the "unfair treatment" of small businesses during the province's 28-day lockdown in Toronto and put pressure on the government to modify its current restrictions. 

Business owner Inder Jandoo is also the vice-chair of the Gerrard India Bazaar Business Improvement Area (BIA). He's among countless business owners across the city appying pressure to the provincial government to modify its current lockdown restrictions for retail shops. (Tasneem Bandukwala)

"There are employees who are suffering, there are employers who are suffering," Jandoo told CBC Toronto Friday. 

"We should be working together to help small businesses." 

Province maintains its stance on closures

Toronto and Peel Region moved into lockdown on Nov. 23. However, indicators measuring the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic are not yet showing many signs of improvement, raising the spectre of prolonged or heightened restrictions stretching past Dec. 21 — the current day the lockdown period is set to expire. 

Under lockdown restrictions, non-essential retail and malls are limited to curbside pickup or delivery only, while big-box stores can sell all manner of goods — from clothing to books to tech gadgets — if they happen to also sell essential products such as groceries.

While small businesses across the two regions say that distinction isn't fair, the Ontario government has remained firm in its stance that — at least for now — retail stores must remain closed for in-person shopping. 

Indoor dining at restaurants, theatres and non-essential retail and malls are on the list of businesses and public spaces ordered to close as part of lockdown measures in effect for Toronto and Peel Region. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In a statement to CBC Toronto Friday, a spokesperson for Minister of Health Christine Elliott said moving regions into a lockdown is "not a measure this government takes lightly," but that it is a necessary step to curbing the spread of the virus. 

And to support businesses, the Ontario government says it is now providing $600 million in relief funding to support eligible businesses required to close or significantly restrict services. 

"In partnership with the chief medical officer of health and our local medical officers of health, we continue to closely monitor the evolving situation to advise if and when public health measures need to be adjusted," the statement reads. 

BIAs push for appointment-only in-store shopping

But Albert Stortchak, chair of the Broadview Danforth BIA, says that's not enough. He said there's a "lack of a level playing field" for small businesses. 

That's why he's calling on the provincial government to allow for appointment-only in-person shopping experiences for patrons.

"Big box [stores] sell a lot of the same things we do. They're open, we're closed," he told CBC Toronto Friday. 

"Arguably, I think small merchants are better able to look after the health of their patrons." 

Albert Stortchak, chair of the Broadview Danforth BIA, says businesses can open safely by following protocols and limiting customers. His sign reads in part: #ThinkOutsidetheBigBox. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Kathryn Gomes, who works at the Danforth furniture store Syllogy, agrees. 

To help offset the financial toll the pandemic took on business throughout the year, her employer recently redesigned the shop to make it completely Christmas-focused. Then the lockdown was announced, barring customers from entering the store for the majority of December. 

"I don't understand why the government closes us down when we control the number of people [who enter the store]," she said. We would really like to see the Danforth open again, we love the Danforth and we love the neighbourhood."

Countless business owners took part in Friday's initiative, hoping to draw awareness to their plight. 

Here's a look at some photos of the day. 

Business owners across the city were asked to hold signs outside their places of work at 12 p.m. on Friday, detailing how many years they have been in business, and how many people they employ. (Talia/Ricci)
Allen's, loacted at 143 Danforth Ave., says it lost 25 employees due to the pandemic. (Talia Ricci/CBC)
Midoco, an office and arts supply store with three locations in Toronto, says 'we need a modified lockdown for all small businesses.' (Talia Ricci/CBC)
The Fireplace Shop has been in business for 58 years and employs seven people. (Lais Fabricio/The Eglinton Way BIA  )
Sew Be It Studio says it employed nine people pre-pandemic, but now it employs only one. (Lais Fabricio/The Eglinton Way BIA  )
A Phipps Bakery Cafe employee holds a sign reading, "Forget big box. Think inside the little box!' (Lais Fabricio/The Eglinton Way BIA  )
Supporters also took to city streets on Friday, bringing attention to the plight of local businesses. (Lais Fabricio/The Eglinton Way BIA  )
Mid-town Toronto restaurant 7 Numbers says it employed 10 people prior to the pandemic. That number has since dropped to four. (Lais Fabricio/The Eglinton Way BIA  )

With files from Talia Ricci


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.