Manitoba lockdown puts local businesses in tough spot before the holidays

November 18, 2020, 3:28 pm
Rob Paul

Non-essential businesses throughout Manitoba had to close their doors Thursday when the province moved to a Code Red.

On November 12, the entire province of Manitoba joined Winnipeg in moving to Code Red to help slow the spread of Covid-19. With the move to Code Red, all non-essential businesses will be forced to close their doors as the holiday season approaches.
Many local businesses in smaller communities have been put in a tough situation as they’re forced to close their doors in their busiest season. As Covid-19 cases surge in the Winnipeg region they remain contained in other areas of the province as communities have followed the Covid-19 provincial guidelines.

Flower Attic
and Gifts
Faye Horn owns Flower Attic and Gifts in Virden and doesn’t understand why a business like hers that was doing everything right can’t continue to operate as long as it follows stricter guidelines.
“When I first heard, I thought this is not fair,” Horn said. “I’m a business, why can’t I operate 25 per cent capacity. I can control my numbers better than Walmart and Canadian Tire, that was my initial thought when I saw all this.”
The support Horn has received from her community has helped keep her upbeat as she tries to transition to an online operation, but she says it won’t be the same as customers physically being in the store and able to see what they’re purchasing.
“Right now we’re just trying to start an ecommerce,” she said. “We’re trying to post pictures to Facebook. I don’t have a proper website per se, I have a floral one but I’m a lot more than just flowers. I have 12 trees set up in my store and I’m a huge gift store so we’re just going to try to post as many pictures as we can, and still ask the government why? It’s a huge impact. This is our huge season, I can’t predict that I will, but I just hope that I can rebound and stay afloat. I have tremendous community support, I’ve had messages like crazy this morning from my community offering to help and purchasing things, so that is awesome.”
After implementing a Covid-19 protocol months ago, Horn says her business was starting to get its legs back under it thanks to the support in the community. Now, she worries that with essential business esselling similar products to her that’ll she see an even large negative impact.
“We did have some trouble at the start (with Covid-19 protocols) because it was all so new,” she said. “But thanks to the great community that supports me it was good and even though we didn’t have weddings and funerals we’ve still had a good season. Our numbers are down, but everyone’s are. This is just another roadblock and no time is good, but this is the worst time it could have happened.
“This just forces people to shop online or go out of town. For Moosomin, Saskatchewan isn’t shut down so I think they’ll see an influx of shoppers from neighbouring communities.
“Places like Walmart sell flowers, so that’s where everybody is going to go and Home Hardware sells plants so that’s where everyone is going to go—it’s inconsistent. And what’s better for mental health than a bouquet of flowers to cheer somebody up and I think it should fall under a mental health issue too, especially with what people are going through these days, it’s sad.
“You have to remain positive though, you can’t be any other way because there’s too many other problems in the world. Even with the circumstances, how can you not continue forward. We all have to be hopeful. You can’t be doom and gloom about it, we have no choice. These were the cards we were dealt so you just have to play them out. I can’t sit back and do nothing.”

Boston Pizza
Virden Boston Pizza owner Jillian Irvine was shocked when she heard that all of Manitoba would be going into code red. She says it’s going to hit smaller communities hard with local businesses being the heart-and-soul of the area.
“It’s devastating, obviously, for everyone in Manitoba and particularly in our small community where it’s really going to hit our local businesses hard this time of year,” said Irvine. “It’s devastation and sadness and it doesn’t look like there’s going to be an end in sight for quite some time. You immediately have to flip a switch and mentally stay positive and keep moving forward for your staff, customers and family.”
Something Irvine has noticed while operating under Covid-19 restrictions is the inconsistencies from province to province making it more difficult as a border town despite similar cases counts in the regions.
“In some ways the Covid-19 protocols were effective,” she said. “What we find as a border town to Saskatchewan, our struggles were in the sense that in the last few weeks we’ve been in code orange, but Saskatchewan has been basically under normal operations. It was really difficult for customers coming from Saskatchewan to understand our restrictions in our province. Specifically when it went to five people per table and even if you were in the same household and over five you couldn’t sit together. We’re not talking about Quebec not understanding, we’re talking about just our neighbours not understanding the difference between provincial protocols.”
Irvine is thankful her business will be able to operate in some capacity, but feels for those businesses that aren’t able to make a smoother transition to out of store sales.
“We’ll be operating still with takeout, delivery, and curbside pickup,” she said. “It’s a huge impact on us. It significantly impacts us as well as the amount of staff we had to lay off. The impact is catastrophic and obviously everyone has the best interests of everybody’s health and safety at heart and this is what our health officials are telling us needs to be done and we respect it to protect the frontline workers. It’s just about bearing down and doing our part right now.”
Rather than close local businesses that are essential to the owners and community, Irvine wants to know why there’s not a more reasonable workaround to allow businesses to remain open with stricter Covid-19 policies.
“It’s hard to say (if it’s fair),” she said. “We felt the immediate impact actually when Winnipeg went into code red. When the heart of your province is shut down it has a ripple effect on the rest of the province. What I don’t necessarily agree with are the businesses that are deemed critical and allowed to stay open. It would be better if they were allowing for these small businesses and retail outlets in Virden to be open in some respect—especially this time of year—with more parameters like allowing people to call ahead and book appointments just like you’re able to do in what would be considered essential such as car dealerships, doing those kinds of things so they can remain. I just think more support for our retailers would be really appreciated.”
As the holidays inch closer, Irvine says this is the most important time of the year for many local businesses and there’s a lack of consistency in what’s deemed essential and non-essential—especially with some essential stores selling the same products as the non-essential.
“You have businesses that are remaining open that are obviously essential, but they’re selling non-essential items and those non-essential items that are also in the stores that are being shut down and that’s not fair,” she said. “It targets small businesses and there’s inconsistencies with this lockdown and it’s not fair. We’re super fortunate that we get to remain open and provide our takeout, delivery, and curbside pickup services, but without the heart of our downtown businesses what does our business look like in the future and what does our community look like in the future? I think those are the bigger unknown questions that obviously will be answered over time, but in the immediate all you can do is continue to try and support them in anyway you can.”