'I've lost my house for this': Frustrated business owners defy shutdown

Frustration is setting in for many Simcoe County business owners along with a province-wide shutdown aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

With the move from Queen's Park just weeks after a regional shutdown was lifted in Simcoe Muskoka, Melissa Ferguson, owner of Beauty & Babes Salon in Barrie, feels personal services are being targeted.

"I want to see fairness across the playing field; I want small businesses and big businesses to have the same opportunity to feed their families," says Ferguson.

Over the past year, she's accrued nearly $100,000 in debt and qualified for rent relief just twice while still needing to put food on the table for her three-year-old daughter.

Ferguson says she can't afford to close her doors. For her, it's all about survival, even if it means going against the shutdown order

"If I don't, I'm going to lose my business," she says. "It's not about anything more than my business surviving. I've lost my house for this, all of my money is in my company. "

As of 12:01 a.m. Saturday restaurants are back to delivery and take-out. In-store shopping at essential retail is reduced to 50 percent capacity, while other retailers, including big box stores, are now down to 25 percent.

Personal care services, including hair and fitness centres, are expected to close.

"I don't see the logic behind this lockdown and especially on a personal training side, we feel really attacked by it," says Stephen Roome, co-owner of HQ Fit Studio in Orillia.

At HQ, owners feel the pressure of literally both sides of the shutdown.

One side of the store is reserved for retail and can bring in nine customers. Just metres away is a training studio that should be closed, but owners say it will continue to operate.

"I feel like we can run our business, our one-on-one personal training as safely as any other business can be run, so we will be keeping it open."

In Simcoe County, variants remain a big concern with nearly 1,300 cases, and 231 are active.

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman says he understands the government's decision to initiate the provincial shutdown but feels for small business owners.

"There's just no question that the government did have to act," says Lehman. "But it is a little bit frustrating that the action then captures these same businesses again, and yet many of these big box stores are able to remain open in the way that they are."

Lehman says city council will bring a small business support grant to the table when it reconvenes in a week.