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County businesses delivering in challenging times

Meganne Belisle says the community has been amazing in supporting her switch to delivery of sweet treats.

This is the second in a series of stories on the effects of COVID-19 on County residents, by Olivia Timm and Sue Capon

Despite COVID-19 concerns, County businesses are doing what they can to deliver the goods to keep people safe, and prepare for whatever is to come next.

Lesley Lavender, PEC Chamber Executive Director

Lesley Lavender, executive director of the County’s Chamber of Commerce, expects this agri-tourism community will be particularly hard-hit being primarily a service industry.

“It could be potentially crippling, but I’m optimistic, and it really is too soon to tell,” she said. “There’s an inspiring line: ‘It only takes one rain drop to start a waterfall’, so having one business thinking of a way to creatively redevelop their business model for these trying times really helps other businesses get inspired and do creative things.”

Meganne Belisle says the community has been amazing in supporting her switch to delivery only with her ButterDream Cakes business downtown Picton.

“Once I posted my delivery menu, I had orders right away. I feel that people are supporting me more than actually wanting desserts,” she said, adding she also appreciates those who reached out to wish her luck, “which is really nice to see the love from the community.”

Belisle hopes people will choose to support local businesses over bigger corporations. “We are the ones really struggling right now… Now I don’t really have a consistent income. My current rent is increasing next month and I’m a little worried about paying bills and rent for the store-front.”

Belisle has been chatting with other local restaurant owners, about struggles and how they are coping with closures.

“A lot of people, when our restaurants were open, didn’t seem to understand the severity of the virus, and aren’t taking it seriously,” she said. “Some customers came into my shop and were visiting from out of town. They complained that there was nowhere to eat and nothing to do. I felt obligated to close.”

Like other businesses, she was gearing up to hire summer staff and must now put everything on hold with an uncertain future.

In the meantime, she has created build-your-own cookie kits for kids and families and will deliver any of her sweet treats, or new litre soups,  ordered through email free-of-charge within a 15-minute radius.

“I’m also willing to help in any way in the community, if people need groceries, or a prescription picked up, or anything at all. I will deliver it to your home.”

Home Hardware owner Adam Busscher is hoping people take advantage of free delivery service.

Adam Busscher, of Picton Home Hardware, is also hoping more people take advantage of free deliveries.
“We have 21 trucks in the area and they’re all rolling,” he said. “We’re encouraging customers to call in, tell us what you want, we’ll drop it at your doorstep. We will take payments over the phone, online or by e-transfer. We also encourage customers to shop online and pick up items outside. We’re willing to do just about anything we can do to minimize interaction and maintain social distancing that we’re all talking about.”

While so many people now have more time at home, many, Busscher says, are looking to paint and renovate.

“First and foremost, we pride ourselves on looking after our employees, our customers and our community,” he said, recommending a limit to the number of people coming to the store at any time.

“We’re trying to be as responsible as we possibly can, yet still offering the same services that people rely on. Our staff has been rock solid. They understand what we are trying to achieve. We have the best staff in the world and they understand we’re making decisions based on minute-by-minute information.”

At this point there are no layoffs at the store, and staff members who feel more safe staying at home are being supported.

“It is challenging, challenging times. It’s different than anything we’ve experienced before. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs over the years, and this is uncharted territory.”

Lavender says the Chamber of Commerce is monitoring the impact on businesses, tourism and the challenges of isolating.

“It’s going to hurt us, so working ahead and making recommendations to the government and working on a municipal level is paramount,” she said.

The Chamber has connections with the Ontario Chambers of Commerce and the policy-makers and recommendations can move up the chain to the federal government.

“We’re working closely and daily with our partners. I am submitting ideas, recommendations and stories on the impact on Prince Edward County, so hopefully we can see some shift.”

Recommendations will include information on the impact of fewer foreign workers for the agricultural sector and possible impact on tourism as “a significant, acute business challenge that our community could potentially face – or, it could change in the next 14 days. We are responding short-term, but hoping for long-term continuity.”

Natalie Wollenberg, of 555 Brewing Company and County Canteen, is looking forward to the day people return to the community.

“We’re a tourist town and a majority of us are servers; we’re cooks, we’re chefs, we’re sous-chefs, we’re brewers. The one thing that keeps our jobs going is people coming to our community.”

She is distressed to have to lay off all but two people on staff.

“I feel their pain and I’m heartbroken that we have had to go this far. Unfortunately, that’s what we have to do to make sure we have longevity within our business and that they have a place to come back to when this is all over.”

For now, the bottle shop remains open at the brewery and customers have been supporting their offer of delivery.

Natalie says she, Brett and Drew will appear with delivery at your doorstep, knock on the door and quickly run away.

“I’ve been setting up an online shop for the brewery, so Drew, myself or Brett will deliver to people if they’re in quarantine and they can pay over the website. We’ve also got people we have to look after – we have elderly people in our family, we’ve got people who have asthma or people who have got congenital illnesses who we have to protect.

“I don’t think in my lifetime I have ever seen something as significant as this shut down an entire world. We’re very lucky that we don’t have a world war, or things like that. There are still things going on in the world that are horrific, like people dying of hunger or civil war. I suppose I find a little bit of solace in that. It could always be worse.”

The bit of sunshine is a break for she and her husband as they haven’t taken one in several years.

“I’m going to be working on a garden. I might make a sourdough starter. I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll find something to keep me amused for a little bit.”

COVID-19: County businesses close, change and support community

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