All of Manitoba under Code Red

Non essential businesses closed, restaurants and bars closed, sports and recreation cancelled

November 16, 2020, 8:02 am
Kara Kinna


When the announcement came on Tuesday that all of Manitoba would be going into lockdown as of Thursday to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the province, and non-essential businesses would be forced to close their doors, it came as a shock to many local business owners who were just starting to gear up for the Christmas season.

“Usually we make about 50 per cent of our income from now until Christmas day. It’s usually about six to seven weeks (of sales),” says Samantha Cluett with Samantha’s Boutique in Elkhorn.

“We kick off with our open house, which we just had on Saturday and Sunday (November 7-8), until about Christmas Eve.

“And now with our doors closed, I feel our income will definitely go down. I know we have the option of online selling, but in our store it’s just not the same.”

We have a little bit of everything and you will never showcase that the same way on the internet as you do when you give somebody that experience to come right into the shop and see it for themselves.”

Cluett is one of a number of local businesses in rural Manitoba that is speaking out about the lockdown. She says she feels there is a higher risk of transmission of Covid-19 in larger centres like Winnipeg, especially when people have less options for shopping due to closures and must crowd into box stores. She has written letters to her local MP and MLA and the office of Premier Brian Pallister asking them to consider allowing small businesses to open at 25 per cent capacity, the same as essential businesses such as grocery stores.

Samantha Cluett with Samantha’s Boutique in Elkhorn.

“I have sent emails to (MLA) Greg Nesbitt, (MP) Larry Maguire and the offices of (Premier) Brian Pallister and I encourage all of my small business friends to do the same!” she said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that garnered plenty of attention.

Cluett says she was surprised when the lockdown was announced because she thought the provincial government was intent on keeping the economy going and targeting problem areas during the pandemic. As of Friday there were 6,307 active cases in Manitoba. Of the active cases, 4,582 were in the Winnipeg region, 804 in the Southern region, 451 in the Interlake region, 305 in the northern region, and 165 in the Prairie Mountain Health Region in southwest Manitoba. There were only 28 active cases in the Souris River district within Prairie Mountain. Souris River includes the Elkhorn, Virden, Reston and Melita areas.

“I was pretty caught off guard,” she says. “I kind of thought the common goal here was to keep the economy open and learn ways to work with the virus, and that’s why we have all been working so hard to keep our store clean and safe and limiting our customers. I didn’t think we would ever see this again.”

She says she feels that closing the entire province is not fair to all the small businesses that are taking Covid-19 precautions to keep their customers safe.

“I have been in Wal-Mart in Brandon and I don’t think they are following all of the rules to the same extent that the small businesses are,” she says. “We are working very hard to ensure our businesses are clean and safe for everybody. And I think by closing us—which is really what has happened, it is the small businesses that have had to close—by targeting us, people still need to shop, and now all of the people from the little towns are going to travel to big centres where they are more likely to pick up the virus. I feel, if we are closing, then everybody needs to be closed. Wal-Mart should only be allowed to sell groceries or pharmaceuticals. And I feel then us small businesses should be also allowed to operate at 25 per cent capacity.”

She says she feels small businesses are the safer bet when it comes to cleanliness and the risk of coming into contact with Covid-19.

“Our local nail salon, you go there to get your nails done, she’s masked, you’re masked, you watch her wipe everything down, she has got the shield up and then you sit there, you have got a desk in between you, so you are probably three to four feet apart. And I would still feel much safer going there for an appointment than walking into a big box store right now. Even if we were allowed to operate appointment based with limited people, I feel we should be able to operate in some way without being closed down entirely.

“I feel it is the big centres that are filling up every day with people from all over. They are full of strangers and we don’t know that they have wiped down their cart handles, or they have wiped down every product that has been touched, whereas in these small businesses, we are doing that. We are monitoring and we are cleaning and we are doing our best to keep our doors open.

“For our open house, we limited the people in the store at one time, we did half of our capacity, which is 12 people, and it was appointment-based, so people arrived at their appointment time, where they were greeted at the door, signed in with their name, town, phone number. They were read off the screening questions, they signed the guest book and entered their name in a draw, and then that pen was wiped down, and there were arrows on the floor to direct them through the shop.

“And then we had another girl, and her job all day was she followed around and wiped everything down—doorknobs, light switches, tables, the till, and she wiped and cleaned everything. Then we had sales people on the floor that were there to help people shop, so they were limiting what people were touching, and then I operated the till and we wiped down the counter, debit machine, and till after every transaction. So, I felt very safe, and we heard all day how safe all of our customers felt in our store. We steamed all of the clothing after it was tried on.

“I would like them to amend the code red restrictions to allow small business to operate at 25 per cent. Even though they do not feel we are essential, we are all essential to our own communities.

“I am just waiting and I am very hopeful that they might reconsider and allow everybody to be treated fairly in this.”

She says she has received lots of messages of support from customers and other small businesses.

“I have had quite a few reach out to me saying they are in the same boat and they feel the same,” she says.

“All day today (Wednesday) I have got messages just being so supportive. I think everybody really wants all of the small businesses to survive, and even if we don’t win the big battle, we are raising awareness of how important it is to support these small businesses during this.”

She says she fears that some small businesses may simply close their doors for good with this second lockdown.

“I am very afraid that could very well happen to some. For most businesses, this is our time to make the money and if it isn’t their busy season, it is definitely that crucial season where they need to make income to push through to the next busy season.”

She says she feels her business will get through the lockdown, despite the loss of sales.

“We have an excellent community and we have the best customers and I think they will make sure that we make it,” she says,. “They are going to support us and step up and I have full confidence we are going to be okay and I hope all the other small businesses are okay. It’s a scary time for everybody. I am different too in the sense that I have inventory to sell, but I feel for the hairdressers and nail technicians who are just closed.”

“We are working on our plan. We have just brought a girl in who is going to help with our social media, so I feel that will help us be more present online. We will be there every day because we are the Purolator, FedEx, and UPS depot, so we will still accept parcels every day and we will be in the store and we will do the online/Facebook selling, with delivery and curbside and shipping. This is kind of our plan and hopefully it doesn’t last too long. But I have heard we are looking at about four weeks of this.”