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'It's devastating': New COVID-19 restrictions have Newmarket businesses reeling

Newmarket Chamber of Commerce calls for new supports to help businesses through lockdown
20210104- Body Evolution Studios-JQ
Newmarket's Body Evolution Studios is one of many fitness facilities impacted by new provincial restrictions coming into effect Jan. 5.

Newmarket’s Body Evolution Studios owner Jacqueline O’Toole said she held off registering customers for classes for the new year with the threat of a lockdown.

She said her pole and fitness studio usually registers customers Dec. 20 but she held off until Dec. 27 in case of an announcement for new public health restrictions.

But after a full day’s work getting classes sorted, she has to reverse course after the province announced Jan. 3 indoor gyms and fitness could not run as part of a return to an array of new COVID-19 public health restrictions. 

“That was the most frustrating part,” O’Toole said. “We all kind of knew (the provincial government was) thinking about doing it. Why would you wait ... do it at the worst time, every time?"

Newmarket businesses said they will be struggling after the province announced new closures coming into effect Jan. 5. Indoor dining, recreation facilities, and theatres are closing, while retail must operate at 50 per cent capacity. Businesses are calling for more support, and some are questioning the closures. But the move comes as COVID-19 case counts hit record highs due to the omicron variant. 

Olde Village Free House owner Allan Cockburn said the “wells are running dry” for a lot of local restaurants, and the option to provide takeout does not make up for it.

“It’s very frustrating. I’m not really understanding the call this time around. It doesn’t appear like this one (variant) is killing people like the first one was,” Cockburn said. “They keep doing it to us every six months. These restaurants are going to start dropping like flies.”

Although there's evidence the dominant omicron variant has reduced severity, its significantly greater transmission rates are creating record-breaking COVID-19 cases and public health has said that puts the system at risk.

Still, Cockburn said he is not sure about the blanket shutdown, even after closing for a week in December due to positive cases among his staff. He said many local restaurants faced small outbreaks, with the variant spread resulting in a revenue decline over the past couple of months.

“The variant travels so fast, sales were way down,” he said. “That is what it is. I don’t know shutting down restaurants completely is the right call.”

Chambers of commerce have called for the province to introduce business support in lockstep with closures. Newmarket Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Chris Emanuel said that has not happened despite advocacy efforts ahead of the Jan. 3 announcement.

“Many businesses don’t have a nest egg of cash to rely on. Many are not even month-to-month, not even week-to-week, but may be day-to-day on cash and being able to make payroll. That could be a tipping point for many local businesses,” he said.

With programs like the federal wage subsidy now expired, Emanuel said governments need to work better together to address the situation. He said businesses have little clarity on what support they can expect. 

“They just want an answer, and they need to know how the government is going to have their back right now,” Emanuel said.

Locally, Emanuel said the chamber hopes to have a Zoom session next week to let businesses know what support is available. Cockburn said the Main Street BIA is advocating that you support and shop locally.

O’Toole said she believes she could run her business safely, with distance and only six customers in a studio at a time. She said she would like authorities to check her business to ensure it could run safely, rather than issues a blanket closure. 

As far as support, O’Toole said after growing her business for seven years, the pandemic-related lockdowns have stalled that. She said she would like government assistance to make up for that in addition to current shortfalls.

“It’s devastating for us financially. It’s devastating emotionally. It’s devastating to our studio,” she said. 

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Joseph Quigley

About the Author: Joseph Quigley

Joseph is the municipal reporter for NewmarketToday.
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