The New Year will begin without positive change for Ontario’s small businesses.
Those still open will continue to rely on online orders and curbside pickup to get them through the lockdown, at least unti the end of January.
But for many, it remains an unfair playing field as big box stores remain open.
The inequity has several politicians, including the mayor of London and a Sarnia souncillor calling for Queen's Park to remedy the situation.
But until that happens, small businesses continue to operate within the parameters of lockdown restrictions.
In London’s downtown core, the pandemic hit immediately after the pain of a multi-year construction project needed to create Dundas Place.
The combination has proven to be a significant financial challenge for independent businesses.
With New Year’s Eve upon them, core restaurants are left to struggle with takeout instead of struggling to cram in eager dine-in customers.
Even specialty stores are facing a hit.
Cassandra MacVicar manages Attic Books on Dundas Street. Her business is doing its best to adapt to curbside pickup, but with a product people typically browse, she acknowledges it has been hard.
“It (sales) is probably down 50 per cent.”
MacVicar says the lockdown knocked out key Boxing Day sales. A frustrating hit on the bottom line to absorb as big box stores, which also sell books, remain open.
“They can say that that’s safe, but like you can’t be in our store which is three floors. You could literally have a dance party all by yourself in your area.”
The manager of Heroes, another specialty store on Dundas, shares the same frustration, but Christopher Runciman is trying to stay optimistic.
Christopher Runciman, the manager of Heroes, is seen in front of his Dundas Street store in London, Ont. on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. (Sean Irvine / CTV News)
He says he’s instructed his staff to push through with all sales avenues still open to them, including storefront pickup.
He’s even suggested they double-down on everything from online transactions to the retro method of using the regular mail to market.
But Runciman acknowledges all the measures can’t stop “the hurt” the lockdown creates.
“I think everybody is hurting. Without a doubt, there is going to be a decline in numbers for everyone across the board, especially in a specialty shop like ours. It will be nice when things get back on it, but yeah, it could be a while.”
In the meantime, small shops need customers who remain loyal, like Tyler Armstrong.
“The big box stores like Amazon and Walmart don’t need our money, but these small local stores do, for sure.”
And Armstrong says customers need small stores to provide unique items that offer a distraction from our current reality.
In his case, a rare Star Wars figure he purchased at Heroes.
“It keeps my sanity,” he concluded.