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May. 17, 2021 | Monday
Local News
Small businesses struggling during back-and-forth pandemic lockdowns
Husband and wife Sharon and Darren Michlik, owners of Great Things on Queen Street, say despite government grants, lack of business during lockdown has been devastating to the store. (Bernard Lansbergen)

Bernard Lansbergen
Special to The Lake Report/Niagara Now

Joe Marchese of Virgil restaurant Twisted Vine wants to know: “How can we do the same things over and over again and expect different results?”

When Premier Doug Ford announced a new shutdown two weeks ago small businesses had to close their doors once again, leaving some owners frustrated as they scramble to adapt.

When COVID-19 first hit last year, Twisted Vine had only been open for nine months.

“You’re trying to establish yourself as a new business, which is hard enough in this world,” said Marchese. “We’ll never make up the amount of business we’ve lost.”

Kevin Neufeld, owner of Old Town hat shop BeauChapeau, agrees, adding, “The losses have been incredible.”

BeauChapeau has had an online presence since 1998, which made for a smoother transition to curbside pickup.

“To have a website that was already operating was really beneficial for us,” said Neufeld. It even allowed the business to grow as BeauChapeau has doubled its floor space in the last year, effectively making it the biggest hat shop in Canada, he said.

For others the switch to an online model was a bigger adjustment.

“We did not have an online presence at all because we never needed it,” said Darren Michlik who, together with his wife Sharon owns the women’s clothing boutique Great Things in Old Town.

While Michlik said he was able to apply for government funding to create a website, the web development process still took five months and all the while his business floundered.

“People’s motivation during lockdown was extremely low,” said Michlik. “There was nothing to get them into the mood of buying clothing because there was nowhere to go and wear it.”

When things opened up again, it brought a moment of respite for a lot of small businesses, but the constant change in restrictions makes it hard to anticipate customer demand.

“People don’t realize (that) every time you open and close a restaurant it can range from $2,000 to $10,000, when you have to buy supplies and food and your alcohol and everything. It’s not easy to open and close," said Marchese.

Michlik concurs and points out that his store has to order its clothing seven to eight months in advance, leaving the owners on the hook for future shipments. “If we don’t get to open in April and May, how are we going to sell spring clothing?”

For some businesses, such as nail and hair salons, there is not even the possibility of switching to a curbside or takeout model, as their services are not allowed under the current restrictions. 

Michlik, for his part, is already dreaming about the day he can open the doors of his store again:

“It makes people feel good coming into a shop and trying something on. That’s what makes us feel good, helping people look their best and giving great old-fashioned service.”

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