Jason Walkinshaw doesn’t like going into work anymore. Before the pandemic, it was typically filled with dozens of shrieking kids, climbing all over and running around.
For the past year, it’s been silence.
“You can hear a pin drop,” he said. “Every time I go down there, it’s just like, another reminder how much longer can we hang on for.”
His business, Lil’ Monkeys Indoor Playground in Burlington, is one of many Ontario businesses now closed for more than a year due to increased risk of spreading COVID-19.
When the pandemic started last March, Walkinshaw shut down and laid off staff. He initially thought it would just be for a few weeks. Then a few months. Still closed now, he said he’s taken on half a million dollars in debt he didn’t have a year ago.
“It’s been awful. Trying to survive is almost impossible.”
There were times when Walkinshaw was legally allowed to open. But capacity restrictions meant it was not financially viable, and he was unable to cover his opening costs.
No income has meant severely cutting back on spending. He warned his kids last year Christmas would be “next to nothing.”
‘We’re kind of stuck’
The province started a small business support grant to help owners like Walkinshaw, with payments between $10,000 and $20,000. The program was just renewed again in Wednesday’s budget.
He applied for the first round months ago but has yet to receive any money. He thinks he can make it until September without opening and after that he’ll “probably” have to close.
He’s hoping for a speedy vaccine rollout.
“Our hands are tied. We’re kind of stuck,” he said. “The help is just not there that we need to survive.”
LISTEN ► What it’s like to be closed for a year
Ontario Morning from CBC Radio3:41A whole year later, these businesses are still shuttered
Andrei Kovalevskii has also had to stay closed for over a year now. He runs a commercial sauna in Windsor, part of his therapeutic massage business.
Massages are allowed under Ontario’s COVID-19 restrictions, which has allowed him to keep making money but provincial rules still don’t allow saunas.
“I will survive but I know some businesses, they will never reopen again,” he said. “I’m a very positive person myself but I don’t see any kind of positive outcome in this.”
Kovalevskii is from Russia and immigrated to Canada a decade ago. He said saunas are a huge part of his culture and pre-pandemic, his sauna was frequented by many Eastern Europeans, eager to keep cultural traditions alive.
“It’s been a huge impact,” said Kovalevskii. “It’s very important for us to use saunas.”
He’s been getting calls from community members asking him to secretly open up his sauna for them. He’s had to say no over and over.
“I don’t want to get involved in this because it’s a huge fine,” he said. “I have no choice. I have to refuse people.”
Pandemic ‘double whammy’ for new business
April Truax-Harrison opened Sunnyside Up, her breakfast buffet restaurant in Petawawa on March 7, 2020. Just days later, she was forced to shut down, as Ontario initially declared its state of emergency.
“I was really, really, really scared,” she said. “There was the fear of the pandemic but being new in business, there was also the fear of not making it already, right? So it was a double whammy.”
Buffets still aren’t allowed today, due to increased COVID-19 risk. But that was Truax-Harrison’s entire concept for a restaurant.
She was forced to quickly pivot into a breakfast and lunch restaurant, without a buffet. Her hot and cold buffet tables sit empty. She’s hopeful one day they can be filled with food again.
“We still get asked today about the buffet. Unfortunately, we can’t have it.”
Still closed in green zone
The province provided this list of businesses and work places that still can’t open even if a region is in green, the lowest possible zone.
- Amusement parks and water parks
- Buffet-style food services
- Dancing at restaurants and bars, other than by performers hired by the establishment following specific requirements
- Overnight stays at camps for children
- Private karaoke rooms
- Prolonged or deliberate contact while playing sports
- Saunas, steam rooms, bath houses and oxygen bars
- Table games at casinos and gaming establishments.
- Strip clubs
- Indoor playgrounds
- Escape rooms
- Beauty salons/spas (personal services to the face where masks cannot be worn)
- Board game cafes
- Racing venues (car, horse racing)
- Nightclubs/concert venues
- Sex clubs
Still Truax-Harrison said she’s been able to make a living.
“I had so many people saying, ‘You’re not going to be able to do it,’ she said. “I did do it. And I did it through [a once-in-a] 100-year pandemic and I’m still here.”