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

Noting COVID-19 has forced everybody to make sacrifices, with local businesses particularly hard hit, Mayor Steve Ferguson admires signs that sprung up on plywood hiding renovations at County Canteen. Artist Nella Casson and friend Emily Sanders started the postings to the wall and hope others will be inspired to leave a message of hope. “Sometimes magic just comes out of nowhere to lift spirits a bit during this oppressive time,” said Ferguson. – Mark Kerr photo

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

County businesses are radically changing up or closing up in concerted effort to protect themselves, employees and customers from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Sarah Doiron, the Picton BIA’s manager.

“This week has brought a lot of changes, and we’ve been watching developments day-by-day,” said Sarah Doiron, Picton BIA manager. “Closing a business temporarily for this pandemic is a completely personal decision and I think that it’s been really difficult for a lot of individuals to come to that conclusion, but understand it’s for the community.”

Throughout the process Doiron has been hearing over and over that business owners want to ensure safety of their customers and staff.

“You have to realize this is their bottom line, and is their livelihood. It’s been a real challenge.”

She is gratified to see how the community has rallied and noted businesses like the Acoustic Grill, made lemonade out of their situation with Steve Purtelle and staff making and delivering hundreds of meals to people in need-  such as seniors and others who couldn’t leave their homes.

“I think we’re going to see more of that,” said Doiron, who noted several plans are under way to connect, support and partner with County businesses, and will be launched in the next few days.

Curtis Sprissler closed his Rapidfire Paintball business in Bloomfield, and has changed the way his Green Team Lawn Care business operates.

For his usual business that ramps up in spring, his team was confident it could operate with no human contact – one person to a truck, wearing gloves and masks.

Curtis Sprissler

“Then we got talking about what our clients might need and realized that we have a unique opportunity since we visit the whole County and surrounding areas every week – and a big fraction of our clients are in the age bracket that is at highest risk.

“As we drive from house-to-house cutting grass, we will also be dropping off groceries, fixing things, running errands… who knows what people will need.”

He says the changes are not sustainable in the long run, but in the short term, could mean hiring extra employees, which will also help team members who need to self-isolate.

“One of my guys is starting 14 days alone after picking up family at the airport, so this would be a great use of extra hands.”

What matters in the long-run, he said, is how people look after their community. The former army reservist says he’s seeing people leap into action with the exact same commitment he saw in the military when they confront a challenge.

“Everywhere I look it seems there are nice people trying to help,” said Sprissler. “I see people delivering food, teachers offering free online instruction and all kinds of creative ideas. The positive outpouring is inspiring, and it’s contagious, too!”

Kinsip Fine Spirits has also radically changed its business in support of the health of the community.

The Gilead Road business is currently switching focus from fine spirits to making fine hand sanitizer for essential personnel.

“There is a great need for it at the moment,” said co-owner Maria Hristova. “It is not what we normally do, but we can make it pretty easily with a lot of the alcohol that we already have. ”

The move, she says, is helping to keep the company’s team intact and employed as they are no longer offering tastings, tours and workshops and have lowed prices for shipping from the online store to help generate sales. For now, the store remains open with vigilant sanitation.

“We have seen an outpouring of interest and well wishes to us from the community because of offering hand sanitizer to essential personnel,” said Hristova. “It really makes us feel like we are all in this together and that eventually we will overcome this situation. That said, we are taking it very seriously and we hope everyone else out there is doing the same. Social distancing is paramount in order to flatten the curve!… We are just a small part of a much larger thing here.”

Rick and Sonya Szabo, of the Vic Cafe, attempted changes to keep their employees, but also ended up closing, and donating food to people in need.

Sonya and Rick Szabo

A week ago they were clearing tables and disinfecting everything and following Monday’s announcement by the government that restaurants offer take out only, they switched gears, but that, said Sonya, had complications of its own – with safety for staff and customers – so Wednesday they decided to close their doors.

They are now filling out records of employment for 10 staff members who are now out of a job, and figuring out how to continue paying for rent and utilities.

“We donated bread to the food bank. We are donating all of our milk to nursing moms. We’re doing what we can to get rid of all of our food. We geared up for a big March Break, and now we have all of this food and now that’s thousands of dollars that would spoil, so we’re giving it away to employees and food banks.”

Rick notes the timing of these drastic changes and closures couldn’t be worse.

“A lot of small businesses are not going to recover from this. I didn’t sleep last night, just tossed and turned thinking, ‘What do we do?’ I’ve got bills due,” he said. “The timing of it is so bad. At the end of a long winter, where none of us have money in our bank account, we’re drawing on our lines of credit, we’re all just barely making it through the winter.”

They hope residents and visitors will have compassion for small businesses when they do open up again.

“We need our community support.”

The two are self-isolating following a trip out of the country.

Sonya says she’s found self-isolating doesn’t mean sitting on your hands in the dark.

“It means doing something positive – going outside, learning something new, starting a new hobby, skyping or phoning friends more frequently and having fun. I think that’s the most positive message,” she said. “Our message is still a positive one. We have our health, our family is healthy and our staff are all healthy right now. I think that’s really what’s most important, above any of the financial or business issues.”

Rick agrees, noting they’ll dig themselves out of what hole they get into.

“We’re going to be fine, as long as we have our health. We’re so thankful to everyone in the healthcare system that are working so hard.”

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  1. Graham Chapman says:

    The Print Practice has printed Ontario Public Health posters ‘ How to wash your hands’ and ‘How to use hand santizer’ and these are free of charge located outside our office 199 Main Street Picton. Our offices are closed to the public, but the posters are located outside of our front door in a tote. If more are needed then we will replenish.

    Grocery Stores – if you need specific items for your customer or staff COVID safety please let us know. We will be happy to provide these free of any charge.

    Contact gillian@theprintpractice.ca or graham@theprintpractice.ca

  2. Dennis Fox says:

    I believe we have a good balance of respect already from both local business and from us – their customers. The ones I do respect the most are the employees who are doing the grunt work everyday, even during a pandemic, for a minimum wage. I thank them very much!

  3. Bruce Nicholson says:

    There has never been a more critical time to shop locally and support County businesses.
    Now and when things return to the “normal”.
    And let’s be sure to thank businesses that remain open to serve our needs.

  4. Fred Lester says:

    This certainly is an unprecedented experience for us all. In order to help one another, I wonder if small business owners would be willing to share their specific financial burdens, keeping all profit and non-critical expenses out of the equation. There may be others willing to assist apart from or until government assistance arrives. There are so many ways people might take advantage of the crisis – this is not the time – full honesty is required. Perhaps our County administration would set up an emergency Financial review committee to field the applications until help arrives?

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