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Barrie-owned businesses feel the pandemic pinch

‘I laid off 100 people yesterday. I can’t pay them’; Buying local needed now more than ever as businesses face uncertainty

Dunlop Street in downtown Barrie is a ghost town this week.

Once the province announced on Tuesday that they were declaring a state of emergency, many locally-owned downtown businesses were forced to completely close their doors, which has led to uncertainty, anger and fear over how they’ll be able to pay their bills and whether they’ll even make it out the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every restaurant and local business in the country is hurting,” said Don Kellet, owner of Donaleigh’s and Dunlop Street Diner. “Since minimum wage went up, most restaurants are working on a one or two per cent profit margin. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of restaurants don’t re-open.”

Kellet says both his restaurants are doing take out and UberEats delivery, however his staffing levels have had to take a significant hit.

“I laid off 100 people yesterday. I can’t pay them,” said Kellet. “How do I pay rent? How do my employees pay their rent and mortgages?”

Kellet says he’s worried for everyone who works for him. He said he tried to help an employee apply for EI on Wednesday morning, only for her to be told she wouldn’t get a cheque until April 4.

“How is she supposed to pay her April 1 rent?” he said. “I can’t wait for them to come back to work, but I don’t know when that’s going to be. We have a two-week plan. After two weeks... we’re looking for ways to borrow money right now just so we can re-open.”

If people want to make sure every penny goes toward local businesses, one way they can do so is to opt to get take-out over delivery.

“I get that you’re not supposed to leave your houses, but Uber takes upwards of 30 per cent of the bill,” said Kellet. “We barely break even.”

“These massive companies are licking their chops right now because everybody has to use them,” he said.

The week of St. Patrick’s Day has typically been the busiest week of the year for Donaleigh’s, so Kellet said he brought in $100,000 in stock to prepare; that stock went unused.

“I can’t return it, because they’re also all shut down,” he said. “I can’t sell the beer because I can’t be open.”

In the meantime, Kellet says he’s having the remaining staff help with minor renovations to the restaurants during the day to keep everyone busy.

“We’re doing everything we can to make lemonade, so to speak,” said Kellet. “Every small business owner in the country is trying to figure out how to at least pay their bills that aren’t changing. We’re just trying to get ahead of the curve and we’re having a really hard time.”

Mike Olah, owner of Osgoode Co., has been in business for four years selling curated clothing and accessories sourced from Canadian brands, as well as a custom clothing printing service. He opened his retail space at 45 Dunlop St. W. about three years ago.

The storefront was temporarily shuttered earlier this week.

“I closed for two reasons: one was to ‘flatten the curve’ in the community, but also, it’s a ghost town here,” said Olah. “Nobody is out and about. I’ve been on the Shopify platform for the past three and a half years, and the past week has been the absolute worst for us, ever.”

Olah said he has one employee whose hours he has had to cut back, but has been able to keep on to keep up with online print orders.

“I have tightened my belt because obviously, I have no idea how long this thing is going to last,” said Olah. “It definitely sucks. It’s my livelihood.”

“If it’s a few weeks, we can grin and bear it, but if it becomes a few months, I don’t know. I’m going to have to make a decision,” he added.

Olah has created a 25-per-cent-off discount code for his online store: Stay Safe. He also offers an option for people to pick up their goods at the store to save the shipping costs. To visit his online store, click here.

Alison Oakes, owner of Oh Beehive in Barrie, only opened her manufacturing space on Dunlop Street a month ago after running her business out of her home since 2017. But with trade shows postponing and storefronts that sell her products shuttering their doors left and right, Oakes is feeling the pinch.

“With COVID-19, my retailers aren’t open or won’t be able to open during their regular hours. I have 41 retailers across Canada, but my orders are already at a halt,” said Oakes.

Oh Beehive specializes in manufacturing and selling handmade Canadian beeswax food wraps and bumble bags as an alternative to single-use plastics. The Barrie resident attends trades shows, local handmade-item events and markets to sell her products, but all of her soon-upcoming shows have also been postponed.

“With avoiding big crowds and everyone staying home there’s no point in having the shows,” she said.

Oakes started her business in 2017, and went full-time with it in 2018.

“It’s not even just the drop. I know I’m not going to hear from retailers. The stores are closed. Even when these stores get back up and running, they’re not going to be in any hurry to restock,” she said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she added.

A month ago, Oakes moved into her new space to expand her business, so the pandemic has added extra stress to her plate. She was in the midst of planning to hire help, but with the lack of business, she says she’s had to put that off.

“I have more overhead, and I’m trying to ramp up business and suddenly, there’s none,” she said.

For the foreseeable future, Oakes said she has all her materials and can still make product, so she’s hoping her web business can keep her afloat.

“Going forward, I’m still coming to work. I work by myself. I’m making product so when the postponed shows are rescheduled hopefully I'll be more prepared,” she said.

To visit Oakes’ online store, click here.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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