Layoffs, payoffs and no cash flow: restaurants and gyms fold on day one of new restrictions

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“It’s going to be tough and realistically I think it will last two months from the three weeks advertised,” said a restaurant owner in Barrie.

With more government-imposed restrictions coming into play on Wednesday, many restaurants, gyms and other businesses fear that without immediate provincial help, they can’t get over this one.

Premier Doug Ford announced Monday that starting Jan. 5, the province will revert to an amended second stage of the Roadmap to reopen in an effort to slow rapidly rising cases of the omicron variant. The new measures will be in effect for at least 21 days, until January 26.

Some of the industries hardest hit by the restrictions are restaurants / hotels and gyms, which have been ordered to shut down in-person service altogether. Meals inside restaurants and bars are closed while dining outside is allowed with restrictions, as are take-out, drive-thru, and delivery. Meanwhile, gyms cannot have anyone inside to work out and have to resort to online training, if they have that option.

Steve Ricalis, co-owner of Donaleigh’s Pub, Dunlop Street Diner and North Country, all located in downtown Barrie, said Barrie today that between the three restaurants, 90 people were made redundant on Tuesday.

“Right now there are a lot of people working part-time here and there, but in reality it’s my managers running the front and making the take out,” Ricalis said. “Even my kitchen staff is down to around 70%.

“It is going to be difficult and realistically I think it will last two months instead of the three weeks announced,” he added.

Ricalis says he tries to stay optimistic, but said the first three weeks the government announced the restrictions would last “would only see the peak and then they will want to take another three weeks to stabilize their numbers.”

On Tuesday, the provincial government announced it was expanding Ontario’s new Business Expense Reimbursement Program to help those affected by the new public health measures. Eligible businesses that must close or reduce their capacity will receive rebates for a portion of the property tax and energy costs they incur while they are subject to these measures.

Eligible businesses required to reduce capacity to 50%, such as small retail stores, will receive a rebate equal to 50% of their costs, while businesses required to close for indoor activities, such as restaurants and gyms, will receive a payment reimbursement equal to 100 percent of their charges.

Ricalis says such help would be great, but it’s not enough and it’s not done quickly enough.

“We need the money today. We really need the money yesterday, ”he said. “Getting the money in a month and a half isn’t as helpful. I’m not trying to sound ungrateful, but it’s just the reality. By the time we apply, go through the bureaucracy, payments will not take place until mid February. “

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman also echoed concerns that the need for the money is now.

“What these businesses need now, because they have been closed, is more akin to what the province did in early 2021 with the Ontario Small Business Support Grant,” said Lehman. Barrie today. “I know the Auditor General criticized that a bit, because they rushed the money and was everyone eligible? I know you need careful checks, but I think right now the urgency to get the cash right now is a major issue. “

Lehman said he had spoken to restaurateurs over the past two days and heard many concerns, including the food they were restocking for internal customers.

“Many donate where they can, but these restaurants have food in stock and orders coming in today and this week they can’t cancel,” the mayor said. “They’re spending $ 10,000 to $ 20,000 on supplies and they won’t be able to sell them.”

At Malones Pint House, owner Sarah Lynne Maloney has also fired some people and kept “minimal staff” for her Bradford Street establishment.

Like other business owners, Maloney has been here before and has been very direct about how the latest restaurant closure forced her to only serve take out.

“Oh that was awful,” said Maloney Barrie today. “Everyone is trying to help, our customers have been great in this regard, but it’s understandable that not much can be done by people. You can’t order food … four or five times a week.

To keep costs down, Malones will only be open Thursday through Sunday until the end of the industry shutdown.

Maloney says she is frustrated with the way government funding is being rolled out, saying she can’t apply for an option until Jan. 19, but the current restrictions last right after.

Ricalis reported another major problem with provincial aid, which he called the “flawed” system.

“When they send money to help, they base everything on sales from the previous year. Well, last year our sales went down because of lockdowns, so we’re going to get a percentage of it that won’t help, ”Ricalis said. “In the case of North Country, we opened it during the pandemic so we don’t have any help for that as the previous year was non-existent.”

Lehman says he’s heard the plight of business owners asking the city to do more to help, but says the city government can’t help as much as people think.

“We’re a municipal government and we get eight cents out of every tax dollar in the Canadian federation, so we need the guys who are getting 92 cents to come and help us quickly,” he said. “The local government doesn’t have the kind of money to lend a hand when the provincial government shuts down businesses. “

Lehman said the City of Barrie had been able to help something, like deferring property taxes and water bills for the past 20 months, and that’s something he said “we can do it again ”.

Rob Gathercole, owner of Training For Warriors gym in the south of town, spent Wednesday sending refunds to everyone who paid Jan. 1 for gym services.

“The kicker there is not only do I reimburse everyone for their fees, but I receive a service fee in dollars by wire transfer from the bank,” Gathercole said. “All you can do is laugh or it will eat you way too much.” “

Gathercole was asked if there was a temptation to try to stay open, which has been seen by other companies in the past, resulting in heavy fines.

“The fitness industry is a small world and if someone breaks the rules and tries to cover it up, we hear about it,” he said. “It makes us all look bad and it’s something I can’t afford. Training For Warriors does a lot in the community, raises funds for various charities and we work in partnership with Blood Services Canada. Our name means a lot to me and to others. So breaking the rules and putting people out the back door is not something we’re prepared to do.

Lehman says he hopes companies follow the rules, but sympathizes with their frustrations.

“I am the mayor and I can never advise anyone not to follow the restrictions. The province said that would be the law and therefore everyone in the province must obey the law, ”said Lehman. “But I would say this: given the 48 hour notice, given the frustration, given that we are entering year three, I fully understand why someone might have this reaction (of breaking the rules). But I could never say it’s the right thing to do.


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