To the editor:
What is a small business?
By definition, it is a privately owned enterprise offering services or goods. But, in essence, it is so much more.
They are the beating heart of our community. They are the sponsors of our children’s sport teams. They are what make us unique, offering distinct regional flavours and experiences that speak to our Northern identity. They are our neighbours, friends, family.
A small business is a dream that has come to life.
A small business is someone’s passion and lifeblood, poured into brick and mortar and watered with sweat and tears. They provide unspeakable value to each community that they serve.
Anything living and breathing requires oxygen to survive. Small businesses need a relatively steady supply of income in order to pay off their bills, creditors and mortgages. While most small business owners have the foresight to tuck away several months of savings to weather any unforeseen storms that come their way, what is particularly painful about this storm is that it appears to be fueled by bureaucracy over science.
I have stood by for months, watching small businesses suffocate while being told it’s their fault because they are unsafe. I’ve watched them pour their savings into plexiglass and PPE, mark Xs on floors, desperate to convince the health unit they are no more dangerous than shopping at a Walmart. I’ve watched them endure verbal abuse from non-compliant customers who refuse to wear a mask.
I’ve watched them gasp for air as they watched the two-week “circuit breaker” shutdown that was initiated from Dec. 24 to Jan. 11 morph into a two-month marathon, only to be extended by another two weeks. March 1 is coming, which means yet another rent payment to be made. Many of our small businesses won’t make it.
“Apply for grants!” they are told, only to discover that the grants are nearly impossible to qualify for. It’s an easy way to shift the blame; it isn’t the government’s fault, of course, it’s the small business owner’s for not meeting their impossible standards.
“Stay home, save lives!” Tell this to the international travelers who are still permitted to go anywhere they like.
Small businesses didn’t cause the tragedy at Lancelot Apartments; international travel did. Punishing one while permitting the other is choking our community.
We are told we’re saving lives, but the only two deaths that occurred in Nipissing occurred deep into the lockdown period. We’re told to shop local, but many vendors don’t have the means to build an online platform in a matter of weeks, especially since they were told they’d be permitted to open again come Jan. 11.
The WHO (World Health Organization) is very clear: shutdowns are not sustainable, and they are ineffective. As long as international travel is occurring, and as long as people continue to meet indoors without practising safe social distancing or following protocol, the virus will spread. Shutdowns prevent neither of these things from happening, and instead may fuel non-compliance. If you over-tighten, things snap.
Our small businesses are standing by, ready to comply with strict health and safety measures to keep our community members safe. They have their contact-tracing sheets ready to go. They are willing to submit to rigorous oversight by the health unit. My question is, would the health unit’s decision to remain under strict lockdown withstand rigorous oversight?
I remain skeptical that the health unit will listen to criticism, as it appears to have doubled down on its decision and remain as inaccessible as ever. The most recent media conference offered no reassurances that the health unit is trying to help us emerge from this as soon as possible. Instead, when pressed, Dr. Chirico said he based his decisions on multiple factors, but would not disclose specific criteria or benchmarks that would lead to us being permitted to enter into the response framework.
However, I still have hope. Not in the public health unit, but in the people of North Bay, Parry Sound, Mattawa, Sturgeon Falls and beyond.
Our small businesses need us. The public health unit has failed them, but we cannot.
So long as March 8 remains as our date for entering the response framework (and I hope with all my heart they don’t move the finish line again), we have 11 days remaining. This could be the difference between survival and collapse.
Small businesses are dreams incarnate. I am begging the health unit to reconsider the holistic cost of your decision to double down and asking the citizens of our health unit to stand up and support its members who are being asked to go without air for another 11 days. If we can help you and your small business, we can and we will. We honour the sacrifices you have made to make it this far; let us help carry you to the finish line.
Curbside and takeout. It may be one of the few things that we can do, but it may be akin to performing CPR. Let’s resuscitate these hopes and dreams so we still recognize our community when it eventually reopens.
In solidarity with the dreamers and doers of our community who have had the courage and stamina to make it this far.
Marianne Vander Dussen
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