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Stay-at-home order coupled with lockdown a double blow to small business owners

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OTTAWA — With Ontario’s stay-at-home order now in effect, small businesses are facing yet another challenge to staying afloat.

“I mean, it’s a struggle. It’s a real struggle every day,” says Stéphanie Mathieson, co-owner of Art-Is-In Bakery in Ottawa.

Ontario has been in a provincewide shutdown since Dec. 26, 2020, but the new stay-at-home order that came into effect on Thursday has added another layer of difficulty to business operations.

Those offering food have been deemed essential in Ontario, but it’s far from business as usual.

“Business is very low but it’s existing. So, we’re blessed. Our platform is mostly online now. We’re working the kinks out. It’s a totally new format,” Mathieson says.

The government has allowed non-essential businesses, including hardware stores, to offer curbside pickup only, but some owners say that cuts into impulse sales.

“If someone were to come in to buy leaf bags for example, we’re losing the potential of them buying maybe a pair of gloves, or a bottle of Windex or maybe a can of paint,” says Paolo Giannetti, partner at Preston Hardware in Ottawa.

The stay-at-home order isn’t just sparking renewed criticism, it’s created confusion, too.

Based on the province’s current rules, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says many businesses are questioning whether to open at all, even if they are legally allowed.

“The new rules that Ontario just put into place are absolutely ridiculous,” says CFIB President Dan Kelly. “On one hand, they’re telling consumers they’re not allowed to leave home except for essential purposes. However, they’re also telling retailers, ‘Here are your new hours for non-essential retail items.’ Business owners are throwing up their hands saying, ‘What is this?’”

Economists project many businesses that have closed during the latest lockdown may never reopen.

“This is going to hurt proportionately small business,” says Ian Lee, Associate Professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business. “They have fewer resources. They’re hanging on by their fingernails since March and April. So, I think the net affect of this, especially on small business is going to be devastating.”

On Friday, Ontario launched its Small Business Support Grant, which provides a minimum of $10,000 to a maximum of $20,000 to eligible small businesses that have had to restrict their operations due to the provincewide shutdown.

The business must demonstrate they experienced a revenue decline of at least 20 per cent when comparing monthly revenue in April 2019 and April 2020.

New businesses established since April 2019 are also eligible, provided they meet the other eligibility criteria.

The money can be used in whatever way makes the most sense for the applicant.

“For example, some businesses could use the support to pay employee wages, while others may need support maintaining their inventory,” the provincial government says.

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When Ontario declared a COVID-19 health emergency last spring, the first instinct of Ottawa entrepreneur Peter O’Blenis was to preserve cash.

“We basically stopped our discretionary spending,” said O’Blenis, the co-founder and CEO of Evidence Partners, which makes software for accelerating the review of scientific and medical literature, using artificial intelligence. “We cut investments in things meant to help us grow.”

It was a defensive posture born of experience. O’Blenis had 12 years earlier nearly been crushed by the global financial crisis. Another looked to be on the way.

In 2008, O’Blenis and his colleagues, Jonathan Barker and Ian Stefanison, hit a brick wall with their first venture, TrialStat, which helped hospitals manage patients’ electronic data. While TrialStat had secured $5.5 million in venture financing just a couple of years earlier, the founders had burned through most of it during a rapid expansion. When the financial world collapsed, so did their firm.

The trio played things far more conservatively with Evidence Partners, which has relied almost exclusively on customer revenues to finance expansion.

The caution proved unnecessary. Like so many other businesses, O’Blenis underestimated the government’s willingness to keep the economy afloat with easy money. Nor did he anticipate that COVID-19 would prove a significant catalyst for the firm’s revenues so soon.

Evidence Partners is hardly the only local firm with technology particularly suited for the war against COVID-19. Spartan Bioscience and DNA Genotek adapted existing products to create technology for identifying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Ottawa-based units of Abbott Laboratories and Siemens Healthineers make portable blood analyzers that diagnose patients afflicted by the virus.

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Shepherds of Good Hope wants to expand ByWard Market operation with eight-storey housing complex

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The Shepherds of Good Hope plans to build an eight-storey building near its current shelter for the homeless in the ByWard Market that would include supportive housing for up to 48 people, a soup kitchen and a drop-in centre.

The organization says it wants to be part of the solution to the housing crisis that has fuelled a rise in homelessness in Ottawa.

People would be moved out of the emergency shelters and into their own tiny apartments in the complex, which would include a communal dining hall and staff available to help with mental health, addiction and medical problems, said Caroline Cox, senior manager of communications for the Shepherds.

Some residents in the neighbourhood are opposed, saying services for the homeless and vulnerable should not be concentrated in one area of the city.

“I was flabbergasted,” said homeowner Brian Nolan, who lives one block from the development proposed for 216 Murray St., where currently a one-story building houses offices for the Shepherds of Good Hope.

Nolan said that, in the 15 years he’s lived in the area, it has become increasingly unsafe, with home and car thefts, drug dealing, loitering, aggressive and erratic behaviour, urinating, defecating and vomiting on sidewalks and yards and sexual acts conducted in public on his dead-end street. Before he lets his son play basketball in the yard, he checks the ground for needles and his home security camera to see who is nearby.

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Carleton University Hosts the Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City

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evehe Carleton University Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City given by Leslie Kern launches Ottawa Architecture Week. Urban geographer, author and academic, Kern will discuss how the pandemic has highlighted long-standing inequalities in the design, use and inclusivity of urban spaces. The talk will share some of the core principles behind a feminist urban vision to inform a wider vision of justice, equity and sustainability.

When
: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.
Registration: https://alumni.carleton.ca/event-registration-architecture-forum-series-with-leslie-kern-2/.

About the Speaker

Kern holds a PhD in Women’s Studies from York University. She is currently an associate professor of Geography and Environment and director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Mount Allison University.

Kern is the author of two books on gender and cities, including Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World (Verso). The book discusses how our cities have failed in terms of fear, motherhood, friendship, activism, the joy and perils of being alone, and also imagines what they could become.

Kern argues, “The pandemic has shown us that society can be radically reorganized if necessary. Let’s carry that lesson into creating the non-sexist city.”

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