For a small-business owner, it should have been a pleasant sight. But when Amer Diab, co-owner of the Three Speed, walked by on Saturday night to see the pub was packed, he knew something had to change.
“For the first time, I was embarrassed to see it that way," he said in an interview on Monday, shortly after locking down the Toronto establishment for what will be an undetermined hiatus.
He’s not alone. Canada’s ability to contain the spread of the new coronavirus depends in part on social distancing, and for many people that means steering clear of bars and restaurants. Some provinces have asked them to shut down, and some are relying on businesses and their customers to make the call.
Either way, it leaves many small-business owners and their staff in the lurch, and regulars may be wondering what they can do to support their favourite local. Owners of these small businesses have some suggestions.
Bars and restaurants that are keeping out the crowds could still draw revenue from takeaway purchases. At 9 Mile Legacy Brewing in Saskatoon, a small six-hectolitre brewery, the bar is closed. But its retail space is still open for selling bottles, which staff are spraying with sanitizer before customers cash out. Staff are also washing their hands after every transaction and asking people to keep a distance from each other. The Hollandaise Diner, a brunch spot in Toronto, decided to block off its dining room on Monday evening and is doing takeout orders every morning. They’ve asked customers to call ahead for a pickup time so that people aren’t crowded together waiting for orders, and will meet people outside or at their car. But if you’ve had symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has, don’t go out. “We’re so exposed to the public,” said Hollandaise co-owner Marisa Tran. “Please keep us healthy as well.”
If you are picking up takeout, paying with cash that has passed through many hands is not ideal. For small businesses working on tight margins, debit fees are often lower than those for credit cards and the transaction happens at a terminal that staff can disinfect regularly.
“If people can think about whether their local store has things they might need before turning to Amazon or one of the big box stores, that’s very helpful,” said Brett McDermott, co-owner of Our Daily Brett, a market and café in Calgary. Even if your favourite spot doesn’t usually deliver, that may have changed. “We know so many of our regulars, and if anyone called us and said, ‘Could you deliver this and leave it outside,’ we’d be happy to do that,” Mr. McDermott said. His catering business makes up 30 per cent to 40 per cent of revenue, which has now been depleted with event cancellations, so takeaway and delivery are important; the location just signed on to delivery app DoorDash.
Hollandaise co-owner Ms. Tran would like people to write to their municipal councillors, and federal and provincial members of Parliament asking for support for small businesses, such as freezes on rents and mortgage payments. “We’ve reached out to our landlords and they’re not able to help us – that’s their mortgage that they have to pay. And loans aren’t an option for businesses like us right now; profit margins are too small,” she said.
Not every business’s needs are the same, and some are more stable than others – if, for example, they own their buildings or have other sources of income. If in doubt, ask how you can support them. “We will have cash flow issues but we also have financing relationships,” said Shawn Moen, chief executive officer and co-founder of 9 Mile in Saskatoon, who is continuing to pay staff even as he eliminates shifts. While Mr. Moen believes he’ll be able to cope and would prefer customers donate to a local food bank, contact never hurts. “There are people behind these businesses. ... The mental-health aspect of this is significant for people who are leading teams like this. People need to connect with each other.”
“Cash up front is a huge gift to someone running a small business,” said Barb Kaill, owner of the Lucky Penny Coffee Co. café in Halifax, which closed its doors on Tuesday. “We still have to pay rent, pay utilities, help our staff out with pay as we can, support our own families.” Lucky Penny sells gift cards on its website, but others may only sell them in stores. “We don’t have any e-commerce,” said The Three Speed’s Mr. Diab, who is working to make sure staff can access employment insurance and is considering providing top-ups for those who need it. “With us being closed, there’s no way for people to support us until after [it’s possible to reopen]. Come [then] and enjoy a night out.”
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