By Michelle Poirier

On January 5, the Doug Ford government announced the province would be moving back to a modified version of Step Two of its reopening plan, with restaurants and gyms forced to close their doors.

This latest lockdown has many local small business owners crying foul, with some saying they are being unfairly targeted.

“It’s nothing short of devastating,” said Alli Cain, co-owner of Anchor Health & Fitness Centre in Keswick.

“My husband and I own the business, we have a young family, we have a staff of over 20 people, and if we hadn’t started another business, we would be having to sell our home to afford the rent for our fitness centre.”

Like many other small businesses, Cain was forced to pivot her business to survive, developing an online platform and virtual studio after the second lockdown.

“Just because I expected this to happen, and we were prepared for it, doesn’t make it any less devastating; mentally, emotionally, financially, physically, which are all the markers of health,” she said.

Cain said she wants to keep the vulnerable safe and make sure the hospitals are not overwhelmed, but that the onus is being put on small business owners.

Cain points out there were 100,000 unique visits to her fitness centre over the last 18 months without a single case of COVID-19 transmission.

She said they have abided by all public health measures and capacity limitations throughout the pandemic.

Robin Smith, owner and personal trainer at 24/7 NRG Fitness in Keswick, also feels businesses are being targeted and wonders what the endgame will be.

“I’m at such a loss for words that here we are again. It’s disheartening; it’s overwhelming. I think, as most business owners would probably say, we just feel so beaten up. I feel very beaten up,” she said.

Smith said if COVID is not going to go away, then we need to find a way to keep business open and balance everything while keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed, or there will be nothing left.

“Right now, I’m renting out equipment to our members so they can stay motivated from home, and then we shut off the lights and lock the doors for the fifth time. The fifth lockdown, for us, puts us at essentially a 100 per cent loss in revenue. We hope that the subsidies get reinstated because the rent still has to be paid,” she said.

Local restaurants are also feeling the pain. Many don’t have covered or heated outdoor dining spaces, so they must rely solely on take-out orders.

Becky Massey, front house manager at The Lake Simcoe Arms in Jackson’s Point, said the restaurant would be offering take-out every day, but patrons are welcome on the patio.

“If it’s a nice day and people want to come to stand on the patio and have a beer, by all means, but it’s not heated or covered,” she said.

“We are very thankful for our longtime, supportive customers. They come out and support us. And honestly, I don’t know what we’d do without them.”

Ashlin Kenuck, manager at The Boondocks Eatery in Sutton, says she does not believe there is enough proof to close gyms and restaurants.

“I think it’s completely unfair. I think that the government is targeting us, and it’s killing small businesses,” she said.

Although the restaurant didn’t offer take-out during previous lockdowns, it will be providing take-out this time around, from Wednesdays to Sundays.

“At this point, we’ll try take out, and hopefully, it’s only the three weeks,” she said.

“It’s especially hard up in this area too, because there’s no Skip the Dishes or Uber Eats, we don’t really have access to any kind of delivery service, so that makes it even tougher.”

On January 7, the Ontario Government announced relief for small businesses to recoup some of their losses.

The Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant offers a $10,000 grant for small businesses subject to closures. Applications will open in the coming weeks, according to the website.

Restaurants, bars, fitness centers and gyms are included in the list of eligible businesses.

The province is also offering property tax and energy rebates.

Applications for the Ontario Business Cost Rebate Program will open on January 18; eligible businesses required to close for indoor activities, such as restaurants and gyms, will receive a rebate payment equivalent to 100 per cent of their costs.

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