Alan Liu, managing director of Salad King, says he has already spent thousands on PPE and safety measures. (Submitted by Alan Liu)

Small businesses struggle to stay afloat as Ontario reopens amid pandemic

Some restaurants, shops say money spent on COVID-19 precautions may not be worth it

As parts of Ontario prepare to enter Phase 3 Friday, small businesses in Toronto are still struggling with the challenges of reopening. 

Alan Liu, managing director of Salad King, a Thai restaurant near Yonge-Dundas Square, has already spent $5,000 on Plexiglas barriers to separate booths and another $2,000 on personal; protective equipment (PPE) for staff who fill takeout and delivery orders. He'll also have to hire more employees. 

"We don't even know if we will be able to break even with the investment we're making," he said. 

Toronto, Peel region and Windsor-Essex won't be moving to Stage 3 just yet as the province and public health authorities closely watch the trends in their COVID-19 case counts, infection rates and health-care capacity.

But even if Stage 3 is just another week or two away, many shop owners and restaurateurs are worried their revenues won't make up for all the money they've lost, and what they have to spend to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions.

We don't even know if we will be able to break even.- Alan Liu, managing director, Salad King

Many businesses say they're incurring extra costs associated with buying masks and PPE for customers and employees, as well as other measures to ensure physical distancing. They say they aren't bringing in enough revenue to offset those expenses. 

Liu suspects the costs coupled with running the restaurant at about a third capacity for safety will mean his revenue will be way down. Part of that is because a large portion of his customers are students from Ryerson University and office workers, who may not return to the area anytime soon. 

"It'll be a a leap of faith to see whether we'll be able to be successful once we reopen." 

Infection prevention fee

To make up some of that lost revenue, other businesses like Physioplus Health Group started charging customers an "infection prevention fee" of $5. 

"We really don't have much choice at all," said owner Michelle DeMarchi. "We're just trying to survive."

 

Michelle DeMarchi, owner of Physioplus Health Group, says she was forced to charge an 'infection prevention fee' to help offset costs.

The fee is to help the clinic cover the price of sanitization and hiring another worker to help screen clients. 

"This is the first time I'm looking at it thinking, 'I don't know how much longer I can keep the doors open." 

According to DeMarchi, the clinic is $95,000 in debt, mostly because her landlord did not apply to the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program

These small businesses aren't alone. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce says many of its members have an uncertain future as the province reopens. 

"It's very widespread," said chamber president Rocco Rossi.

 

"Particularly for small- and medium-size businesses that don't have the same capital capacity of some of the larger firms." 

 

Shutting down 

Dino Ari, owner of Dino's Wood Burning Pizza, had to shut down one of his restaurants. (Submitted by Dino Ari)

For many, that means making the tough decision to shut down for good. 

Dino Ari owned three restaurants under the name Dino's Wood Burning Pizza. 

In March, he decided to close one location down because it thrived mostly on dine-in customers. 

"If you're closed, you don't have any income," he said. "It's hurting every one of us." 

Luckily, he said, his other two locations rely heavily on delivery and take-out and that has helped him stay afloat.

 

Despite some of these challenges, many small business owners are willing to take a chance. For Liu, it's a simple decision to keep Salad King open.

"For our customers, for the neighbourhood, we're going to try to do it." 

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