N.S. small businesses frustrated with extended lockdown and lack of communication

There’s no doubt that the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on small businesses.

But when the shutdown was extended, meaning that retail stores selling non-essential items would have to remain closed until at least June 9, Kentville, N.S. clothing store owner Andrew Zebian said he had to speak out against unfair rules that target small businesses.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia business says province is freezing them out with COVID-19 rules

“I’ve been trying to wrap my head around [how] you can be a larger store and you can sell everything — whether it’s essential or not essential, but if a little guy like myself or other retailers try to open, we’re going to be charged a hefty fine,” said Zebian.

“The little guy is not able to sell non-essential, but the big guy is? There’s no logic there.”

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Zebian is now calling on the government to follow Ontario’s lead and force big-box retailers to close off sections where they sell non-essential items like clothing and patio furniture.

Click to play video: 'Non-essentials cordoned off at big-box stores during Ontario’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order'

Non-essentials cordoned off at big-box stores during Ontario’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order

Non-essentials cordoned off at big-box stores during Ontario’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order – Apr 8, 2021

He says the other option is to allow small retailers to open, even with reduced capacity limits.

“Why can’t a little store be able to open. even by-appointment? We lock the door, serve them and then onto the next one,” Zebian suggests as a solution. “It’d be huge for myself.”

Zebian says while online may work for some retailers it doesn’t work for all. Many of his clients prefer to come in and try clothes and shoes, and get sized properly before ordering.

Read more:
5 Canadian businesses on how they pivoted to online platforms

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But online orders and curbside pick-up is working elsewhere.

Owner of Biscuit General Store in downtown Halifax says that the support they’ve received from their customers during this shutdown has been amazing, but she says it’s still challenging operating a small business right now.

“It’s been daunting and scary, and I think especially the silence from leadership has made it hard on all of us,” said Friedman.

“We just haven’t had any communication from leaders about a plan forward for small businesses.”

The provincewide lockdown is in place until June 9 and could be extended, but even if it’s lifted many businesses don’t know what that will mean for them.

“There’s so much uncertainty,” said Paul MacKinnon, chief executive officer of Downtown Halifax.

“In the fall we will have very high vaccination rates and have herd immunity. If say you’re a restaurant owner does that mean you can go back to full capacity, or does that not?”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 impacts on Black-owned businesses in Nova Scotia'

COVID-19 impacts on Black-owned businesses in Nova Scotia

COVID-19 impacts on Black-owned businesses in Nova Scotia – May 10, 2021

Questions like this are why numerous business commissions, including Downtown Halifax Business Commission, Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission and the Kentville Business Community, have written an open letter to the premier on behalf of more than 4,000 businesses calling for more help and more information.

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The letter is asking for three things specifically:

  1. Increase and extend the Small Business Impact Grant
  2. Share a timeline of loosening restrictions that are tied to health benchmarks
  3. Create programs focused on recovery for our downtowns and main streets

Read more:
Floundering under tightened restrictions, Nova Scotia businesses call for more help

“There really needs to be a proactive plan about what reopening is going to look like and what those phases look like and what other support programs we can expect,” said MacKinnon.

For business owner Candice Mayoros it’s the support programs that are most important.

“Business owners need at least a one-year plan going on from here,” she said.

Mayoros owns CC Lash and Brow in Antigonish. Because it’s personal grooming, it has been completely shut down for weeks and that means no revenue is coming in.

Mayoros says it’s imperative that government help businesses like hers once things start to reopen because it will be a long time before they’re back to what things were like pre-pandemic.

“We have to rebuild our clientele. In all honesty, I have to rebuild my bank account, there is nothing left,” said Mayoros.

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“We are still recovering from the last shut down last year, so this couldn’t have come at a worse time.”

Click to play video: '‘For Small of Us’ campaign for small businesses gaining traction online'

‘For Small of Us’ campaign for small businesses gaining traction online

‘For Small of Us’ campaign for small businesses gaining traction online – May 6, 2021

In Halifax Friedman says businesses are looking for similar things and ultimately just want the government to give them some indication of a plan moving forward.

“They haven’t been giving us any targets to hit for when we might reopen safely, they haven’t been telling us what the plan will be to support businesses through the lockdown but also post lockdown,” said Friedman.