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'It's just getting harder': Rising costs add to challenge of reopening for some Newmarket businesses

'I just don’t feel comfortable that there’s a financial safety net support in place, that we are not going to lose more businesses, and that’s sad,' says Newmarket chamber CEO
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Hungry Brew Hops owner Boris Fong said in terms of business, the latest shutdown has been the worst of them all.

The Newmarket businessman who owns three Main Street restaurants said he has seen significantly fewer takeout orders with indoor dining closed due to the COVID-19 Omicron wave. 

He said the province's announcement Jan. 20 that he could reopen his doors at 50 per cent capacity is good news, but he has mixed feelings about it.

“It’s a lot better than being shut down, obviously,” Fong said. “But 50 per cent, it’s still hard …My business is never intended to only have half capacity and we need full capacity. The margins are so thin already, and with everything going up in terms of labour costs and food costs, it’s just getting harder.”

Local businesses welcomed the news that restaurants, gyms, theatres and more could start reopening Jan 31, with the province setting a schedule to lift further restrictions over the next two months. But some business leaders say the province is still not doing enough to help. 

Newmarket Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Chris Emanuel said the province has not yet announced any support for suppliers and others indirectly impacted by restaurants and others closing down. 

“It’s a glimmer of hope that we’re making progress, but there’s still so much to do to support business,” he said. “I just really would like to see a bit more from the province on that front.”

He said there are some positive measures, like the federal government delaying repayment for the CERB program. The province has also offered a new business support grant of up to $10,000.

But Emanuel said more is needed, including debt forgiveness, if businesses are going to make it through after all the lockdowns. 

“It’s heartbreaking,” Emanuel said. “They have sleepless nights about where they can even make payroll. They’ve had to lay off employees.”

Premier Doug Ford said Jan. 20 that he feels for business owners but added governments are offering plenty of support. 

“My heart breaks for the businesses,” he said at a news conference. “I understand how tough it is to meet payrolls and meet the sales coming in … But we’ve stepped out to tunes of billions and billions of dollars.”

Emanuel said he understands the strain hospitals are under. But he added there is not enough information, or certainty, around the dates the province has set for further reopening and what metrics could change them. 

“Right now, I just don’t feel comfortable that there’s a financial safety net support in place,” he said, “that we are not going to lose more businesses, and that’s sad."

Fong said he understands the province is in a difficult position and is not necessarily asking for things to open up more right now. But he said it has been a tough road for restaurants, gyms, and other closed operations.

“We all had a hard, hard time. It was a hard battle,” he said. “It still is, and hopefully just things get better. I don’t want to see people go out of business.”