Essex councillors push for re-opening of small businesses as owners struggle through lockdown

Essex small business owners, who might not survive the second lockdown, are already fearing a third shutdown, according to the town's councillors. 

'We frankly can't handle it anymore,' says one councillor

Essex councillors say their local business owners are struggling to survive the second lockdown. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Essex small business owners, who might not survive the second lockdown, are already fearing a third shutdown, according to the town's councillors. 

During Essex's council meeting Monday, councillors spoke to MP Chris Lewis, MPP Taras Natyshak and MPP Rick Nicholls about the need to reopen small businesses. The region's medical officer of health, Dr. Wajid Ahmed, was also in attendance to hear council's concerns. 

The town sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford Jan. 26 urging the levels of government to change the restrictions on small businesses. 

"We frankly can't handle it anymore," said Ward 4 Coun. Sherry Bondy. "At the end of the day we're going to lose some businesses and that's not good for anybody." 

Bondy said businesses don't understand why they are closed when big box stores, such as Costco and Walmart, can remain open.

Curbside pickup just isn't cutting it, she said, adding that business owners have said it only amounts to 20 per cent of their usual revenue. 

"We need to come out of this lockdown; it has been long enough," Bondy said. "We need to get ahead of what's happening this spring and we need the data." 

She said there needs to be more information available as to where cases are actually coming from and they need to ensure they have control over cases on farms, as that might be what sparks a third lockdown. 

Others who spoke agreed that small businesses can't hold out much longer. 

"There's a chance that this may go on longer than what we think it may and if it does we don't want to get to the point where we do bankrupt every one of our small businesses by shutting them down," said Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche. 

He said there needs to be a way to monitor small businesses and have them reopen to the public, possibly with capacity limits based on square footage. 

In response, Nicholls said he understands the concerns and agrees that the province should create a more equitable plan. He said when the lockdown was announced, he suggested having regions rewarded if their cases declined. 

"In areas, again, where the numbers are declining then again reward small businesses for good behaviour and allow those small businesses to open up," he said. 

Meanwhile, Natyshak said what he's hearing is that the region wants fairness, along with transparency. 

"Our small businesses are losing faith in government, of all jurisdictions and all levels, but what we can do is give them clear and concise information," he said.

Natyshak added that one option is to prevent big box stores from selling non-essential items to allow smaller businesses to sell them through curbside or online. 

Restrictions 'not fair,' premier says

Last fall, Ontario Premier Doug Ford such restrictions are "not fair" to small business but said it would be impractical to halt sales of some goods within larger stores.

"After speaking to some of the big-box stores, it would be a logistical nightmare," he said at a press conference in November. "They have essential items spread out throughout their whole store and then on top of that, how do they monitor it and restrict people from going in there?"


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