Hills businesses close during COVID
MP Amos: ‘There is light at the end of the tunnel’
When it comes to adapting to the new normal, some businesses bend and others break.
Businesses have had to bend over backward to comply with provincial health measures, some literally and figuratively. With almost one year into the pandemic, some owners are looking at their books and facing the grim reality of having to shut down.
“I don’t blame people for asking the question, ‘Is it worth it?’ For a lot of people, the answer is, ‘No, it’s not worth it,’ and that’s the sad reality of this amount of closures. I can’t stress how serious that is because a lot of people have personal guarantees on their debt,” Wakefield Mill owner Bob Milling said.
Vraie Nature Yoga et Mouvement in Chelsea is a recent and unfortunate example of a business doing all it can to operate during these extraordinary times, but not surviving. Co-owners Pamela Falkner and Lesley Fantin recently announced they will be closing in late-February. The pair bought the business from Shelley Harrison in 2017 and will close the studio’s doors for the last time on Feb. 28.
“It is unfortunate, but there’s not a whole heck of a lot we can do,” Falkner said. “The whole community has been amazing. The messages we’ve had from the community since we announced that we’ll close have been overwhelming.”
2019 was a banner year for the popular yoga studio. Falkner said they did 30 per cent more business than their first year at the helm, and they helped organized a three-day yoga extravaganza in the summer called Yoga Fest 2019. But the COVID-19 pandemic hit in spring 2020 and the studio went from hosting 18 classes a week, with up to 17 students, to none during business closures, and 75 per cent of the monthly memberships were lost.
A brief glimmer of hope came and went in a matter of weeks during summer 2020 when the studio rented an event tent that it set up near the Hendrick Farm housing development to hold yoga sessions outside.
“That was popular, people were doing it to get back in a community and do yoga,” Falkner said.
The studio also changed its indoor layout and reduced capacity to hold classes. It also purchased microphones, cameras and other equipment to run online classes. Falkner and Fantin did all this while not reducing the pay for the yoga teachers who aren’t staff but contract workers.
Unfortunately, despite their adaptations, “The income wasn’t there to support the brick and mortar facility,” Falkner said.
Then came the Quebec government’s extension of the non-essential business closure from Jan. 11 to Feb. 8, she said.
“When it got pushed out further, we said, ‘We can’t keep it going,’” Falkner explained.
Despite doing all they could to adapt – even taking advantage of government assistance, such as the rent subsidy program and a small business loan – they still had to close. And they’re not the only ones.
Bistro 827 in Old Chelsea announced late-last year that it would close indefinitely, and now an “à louer” (for sale) sign sits out front of the empty brunch and mimosa spot.
This and the yoga studio are only two of a number of other businesses that quietly shut their doors due to the effects of the pandemic.
“The story of business is the story of risk, and unfortunately for a lot of people, we’re in very difficult times. My heart goes out to those people who took those risks,” Milling said.
His boutique hotel in Wakefield has had to dig deep to remain open in the capacity that’s allowed.
“Business is down 80 per cent. This is an absolute economic catastrophe,” Milling said.
Pontiac MP William Amos said he knows that businesses in his riding are suffering and struggling and wants to help.
“Whether it’s a restaurant or a yoga studio or otherwise, there are losses — not just for those individual business owners, but [for] the community,” he said.
Though the federal government leaves health restrictions and guidelines up to each province, it has resources available to businesses such as wage subsidy, rent programs and more.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel. The plan is to enable everyone who wants a vaccine to get one by September,” he said about the vaccine rollout, which will inevitably lead to restrictions being lifted, especially for businesses.
“Bridging our businesses over this tough, tough winter into a better spring, a better summer and an even better fall, that’s what the objective is,” Amos added.
When asked what she’ll miss most about their yoga studio, Fantin and Falkner both said the people. They reminisced about waiting quietly to start the class as students filtered in and chatted happily with each other.
“I was happy to have had the privilege of holding a space and helping people find a sanctuary,” Fantin said.
Scheduled classes are ongoing until the Feb. 28 closing date. The studio is offering a free online class to the community on Feb. 28 at 10 a.m. To register visit vraienatureyoga.ca.