Businesses discouraged by Ontario's uncertain timeline to lift restrictions

Ontario's top doctor said there is no guarantee the latest round of restrictions will be lifted by the end of the month, leaving businesses in downtown Barrie to adjust to whatever may come.

"If you walk down the street, you see that you don't see too many shoppers," said Sunny Jung, Everleigh Garden owner.

The government previously announced that with Omicron driving up transmission and hospitalizations, restrictions would be placed on businesses until at least Jan. 26.

On Thursday, Dr. Kieran Moore said the province would let businesses know as soon as it could.

"As soon as we have clarity, we want to inform the business community, so I can't guarantee the 26th," Moore said.

BUSINESSES STRUGGLE TO HANG ON

Jung said she doesn't know how much longer she could hang on.

"I've seen some of the neighbouring stores closing due to that, and I don't want to be the next one," said Jung.

Down the street at Donaleigh's Irish Public House, owner Steve Ricalis said that while take-out sales have been good, the uncertain timeline from the province leaves no preparation time.

Ricalis has had to lay off close to 75 per cent of his staff because of the provincial restrictions.

"If they tell us tomorrow you're going to be open tomorrow, I have to get my food ordered. I have to call in my staff. My staff have been great, but I'm going to need more," Ricalis said.

With applications for government support opening mid-January, he said the money that many businesses need now isn't there.

"We needed our subsidies yesterday, we don't need them tomorrow, and we aren't going to see them until probably mid-February," Ricalis said.

As Omicron cases continue to climb, the head of the Barrie Chamber said it comes down to the province's poor planning.

"You've got schools knowing that they are going back next week. Why can we not have the same certainty for our businesses? Certainly, the numbers are pointing in a particular direction. Businesses need to know," said executive director Paul Markle.

ADAPTING TO RESTRICTIONS

In the meantime, business owners like Janet Kemp turned their attention online to reach their customers.

"As the restrictions go up, the foot traffic goes down, which is what we want it to do for the safety of everybody in the community," Kemp said. "I had taken a few courses before the pandemic hit, and I learned how to build my own e-commerce store. I've always kept in touch with my customers through a weekly email, I do Facebook Lives, and we offer more services like curbside pick-up and delivery."

Kemp points to programs like Digital Main Street, which offer training and grants, helping to keep business stable.

"Through the changes, through the long hours and through the amazing support of our community and beyond, we were able to maintain our sales."

The downtown Barrie BIA stresses the importance of shopping local, saying that in addition to curbside pick-up and delivery, there are also e-gift cards that can be purchased online through its website.