14 Ottawa Street businesses have either closed or moved amid COVID-19, BIA says

It's been a challenging year for many business owners on Ottawa Street, with 14 establishments having either moved or closed down, according to Ettore Bonato, the president of the Ottawa Street BIA.

Business owners say it's upsetting to see the closure of some stores on the street

Ettore Bonato, the president of the Ottawa Street BIA, says the last year has been "a rollercoaster ride" for business owners. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

It's been a challenging year for many business owners on Ottawa Street, with many not being able to survive the pandemic.

Ettore Bonato, the president of the Ottawa Street BIA, says 10 businesses have closed down and four have moved to another part of the city. He says part of the challenge has been the ever changing lockdown rules.

"It is a rollercoaster ride. We have to deal with finding out what we can do, what we can't do, who's open, who's closed," he said.

The Ontario government imposed a provincewide "emergency brake" that took into effect on Saturday at 12:01 a.m.

Under the stricter measures, dining is not allowed and personal care service providers, including hair salons are barber shops, must stay closed. In-person shopping, however, can still take place, but malls must cap at 25 per cent capacity and grocery stores have a 50 per cent capacity limit.

As a salon owner, Bonato says it's upsetting not being able to serve clients, while larger stores and malls can remain open.  

Tracey Rogers, owner of White Feather Holistic Arts, says the new lockdown measures are unfair to certain businesses. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

"We are small business owners that put a lot of time and effort into keeping our businesses open, and when something like this happens, we do hope for support, but unfortunately, it doesn't work," he said, adding that it's concerning to see so many businesses gone from Ottawa Street.

"It is a significant number," he said. "Our mandate, as part of an arm to the City of Windsor, is to promote Ottawa Street to the area ... and we also want to make sure that all our stores, all our storefronts are full. And now when you go down the street, you see 'for lease' signs. It's not a good impression."

Serge Carbalho, co-owner of Windsor Tea Emporium, says the closure of some stores doesn't come as a surprise to him. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

Other business owners in the area are also unhappy with the new measures, including Tracey Rogers, owner of White Feather Holistic Arts, who says it's unfair to certain businesses.

"It seems that almost everyone can work right now except hairdressers and restaurants and gyms. And it doesn't really seem fair because we can walk into the mall. So I think there's some unfairness right now," she said.

Serge Carbalho, co-owner of Windsor Tea Emporium, said the closure of some stores doesn't come as a surprise to him.

"It makes me depressed. I don't think it's going to be a total surprise or shock. It's been a long time dealing with COVID, even though it's just been a year, but a lot of uncertainty. And people are trying to pivot and survive," he said.

'It doesn't really seem fair'

"But you get to a point where, you know, how much more can we take of this? So the decision to shut down via temporarily or permanent, I can respect that decision," he said, adding that it's also been a thought that crossed his mind.

"What do we do now? We have 10 plus employees. Some of them are on layoff. We brought a few back this past month. But at the same time, we were considering bringing back all our employees this month. But now we have to put that on the back burner to see where this is going to go," Carbalho said.

He also said he's reducing his store hours due to the additional lockdown measures.

There are some storefronts on Ottawa Street that for lease. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

But for Rogers, the pandemic hasn't been all that bad for her business as it pushed her to move her store online.

"People can shop from home now, which has been really important this year, like people being able to see the store. And quite honestly, that was overdue. That change was long overdue," she said. 

"I'm trying to look at the bright side of what's happened this past year. And that was the bright side. We made some upgrades that we wouldn't have made," she said.

Bonato said he's trying to stay optimistic as Ottawa Street isn't looking completely empty.

"I'm happy that we did get five more businesses that have come onto our street and taken over some of these empty spots, and I wish them the best of luck. But at the same time, this is a tough time to open a business," he said.

He hopes the lockdown isn't extended and hopes to see his clients return next month.


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