‘We can’t do it’: Ottawa businesses react to new restrictions

For 15 of the last 20 months, TL Rader says her dance studio has been closed, a victim of pandemic restrictions.

“I think we had our first successful week the first week of December; and then boom,” Rader, the owner of Dance With TLC said.

Wednesday morning, her doors closed again, shuttered by a return to Step 2 restrictions in Ontario.

“It’s tough; when you only have a small amount to live on, you have to find a way,” she said.

Rader is no stranger to finding ways. She helped keep her three-decade-old business alive throughout the pandemic through federal assistance, but was eventually forced to turn to her retirement savings and even the generosity of others.

“It’s devastating and it’s humiliating. When you’ve been building a business for almost 30 years, it’s successful, doing well, and then you’re having to resort to this at all; nobody wants to do this,” she said.

“It’s a tough one to swallow, this one. It feels like Groundhog Day all over again,” Sarah Chown, Managing Partner of the Metropolitan Brasserie said.

Chown’s outdoor patio was a fixture of earlier lockdowns, lighting up the corner of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive, and while she says she plans to revive the setup, she’s unconvinced it will offset the loses caused by the lockdown.

“If Winterlude goes ahead, I think we’ll see some folks set up Winterlude patios for sure, but we really just have got to wait to see if that happens. There’s a little bit of a demand for it but, honestly, if you’re sitting out there in minus 30, you’re not out there for very long,” Chown said.

Part of the challenge for small business owners is the lack of support.

“If it’s long and we continue to bleed money and spend savings, we just can’t go on like this anymore. We can’t do it,” Rader said.

New federal supports were announced Wednesday, but Ontario has only promised a new grant program for business owners.

“We have no idea when it’s going and what it’s going to include,” Julie Kwiecinski, Ontario Director of Provincial Affairs for the Canadian Federation for Independent Business, said.

“We have to hold the Ontario government’s feet to the fire on this one because every single day could mean the difference to a small business that’s hanging on by a thread,” she added.

Chown says if the latest restrictions only last the three-week period the province has implemented, restaurants like hers will survive.

“Many of those restaurants that opened in 2020 or 2021 that aren’t going to qualify for any supports. That’s going to be really hard for them to get through if we don’t get back open in three weeks, I honestly don’t know what that’s going to look like,” she said.

“We want to do what we can as a society to help the healthcare system but it would be wonderful to have some help from the government in return,” Rader added.