Woodstock businesses ask for more clarity on essential services

A sign found in a storefront window in downtown Woodstock on Thursday, March 26, 2020. (Bryan Bicknell / CTV News)

The Woodstock Chamber of Commerce says it’s looking for more clarity from the province as to which businesses are allowed to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while many of the commercial districts look at bit like ghost towns, businesses that are partially opening are plugging along as best they can, such as the Upper Thames Brewery. Co-owner Drake Merrit said the business, which employs about 30 people, is running on half steam and half revenue; at about half-steam, and half its normal revenue.

"Things have definitely slowed down business-wise. We’ve reduced our hours in the taproom significantly. So we have stayed open for retail throughout this but we’ve closed the bar."

Kim Whitehead, the general manager of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce, said the measures to flatten the covid-19 curve have led to an economic crisis, as well as a health crisis. And days after the province released the list of essential services; some businesses still aren’t sure whether they’re allowed to be open.

"It’s a little bit vague… They want to comply. They want to do their part to make sure the community’s safe health-wise. But they also want to ensure their business is there when the crisis has passed."

Construction and trades are considered essential, though some workers have resisted. At a Dundas street job site for a new commercial plaza, plumber Justin Waterstrat said he takes each job on a case by case basis.

"A lot of people at home have things that need to get done, especially people in houses, they’re going to need various construction trades coming in to fix things that are essential to keep life going at home. And that can’t stop for us. A lot of the companies are just telling us right up off the bat ‘make sure you’re taking care of yourself. You don’t have to be there if you’re not comfortable don’t do the job you know"

In the meantime, the chamber of commerce is hoping to get tax relief for its members. It has asked the city to defer property taxes for businesses until the pandemic has ended, then allow flexibility for businesses to get caught up.

Brewer Drake Merritt said every little bit helps.

"We’re not stressing out too much about it right now, but with the uncertainty of the situation it’s going to be a concern for not only us but everybody."