Small businesses grappling with omicron after two years of closures and restrictions

By Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press | December 20, 2021 | Last updated on December 20, 2021
3 min read
small business owner during the pandemic
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As the December holidays neared, the Old Triangle alehouses across the Maritimes were bustling with Christmas parties and diners revelling in the festive season.

But that energy vanished in recent days as the omicron variant of Covid-19 raged across Canada and governments brought in new restrictions limiting the capacity at restaurants and enforcing physical distance between patrons.

“It was really, really, really depressing,” said Brendan Doherty, one of the Old Triangle’s owners, of the moment he heard his business would be subject to new rules.

“There’s been a few dark moments through the pandemic, and that one really felt like one of the darker, even though we’ve been dealing with this for two years.”

Doherty, like most other small business owners, is lamenting how the “most wonderful time of the year” has become a nightmare of mounting cases, restrictions, closures and worries many thought were long gone when Covid-19 cases receded in the summer and fall.

They now realize that reprieve was short-lived and are already fearing they will have to shut down once more, lay off staff and perhaps, even say goodbye to their businesses for good.

While the Old Triangle is doing its best to stay open through the latest wave of Covid-19, Doherty said even that is a difficult feat and he’s already had to reduce operating hours.

“With the current guidelines around testing and isolation in our province, I’ve got half of my kitchen staff in isolation, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to get … test results before Christmas at this point,” he said.

“As far as Christmas around here, it’s pretty dark and it’s a pretty sad time.”

Dan Kelly has been inundated with stories like Doherty’s ever since the omicron variant cropped up in Canada and public health officials started moving to quell the virus.

For example, the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said he heard recently from the owner of a gaming centre that was set to host a 60-person, corporate party that wound up cancelled.

“He was going to make $2,000 profit and that $2,000 profit may not seem like much, but that would be the first profitable event he’s had in two years,” said Kelly.

The latest round of restrictions and cases has been particularly tough because small businesses have yet to recover from the previous waves, he added.

The CFIB surveyed 4,514 small business owners in November, before omicron reached its peak, and found only 36% were back to normal sales.

Of those not making normal sales, 22% said they can survive for fewer than six months at their current level of revenue loss.

“Any little glimmer of hope that many businesses saw at the at the end of this two-year tunnel are quickly being extinguished,” Kelly said.

“Any kind of reserves or fats that the businesses might have had has long since been eliminated.”

To make matters worse,this time around there is also little government support. Most of the sweeping relief programs for small business owners and laid off workers ended recently and few have been replaced.

Kelly and Doherty are both calling on the government to bring back support.

“The government is very quick to put restrictions on us and very slow to provide us any relief to continue to support all the people we employ,” said Doherty.

“We’re not trying to get rich here. All we want to do is just keep our business, keep our staff employed, so people have a roof over their heads.”

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Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

Tara Deschamps is a reporter with The Canadian Press, a national news agency headquartered in Toronto and founded in 1917.