Small Businesses: The Heart of Our Economy
The resiliency of business owners in the uphill battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
*This article was written on February 11th, 2021.
“Taking on a brick-and-mortar location may sound crazy,” says Conner Stella, the owner of Baby’s Basement, located in downtown Oshawa.“But I was ready to take the full plunge into BB and this way I could make the most use of my time while in lockdown to be prepared with a fresh store and business model by the time everything re-opened,”
On Thursday, March 12th 2020, life changed on a global scale: the strenuous COVID-19 pandemic had begun. March break was extended for students, a-stay-at home order was issued in Canada and the idea of socializing and leisure became foreign. Since then, it has been a struggle for businesses to survive without the consistency of in-store business. Yet during these turbulent times, businesses like Baby’s Basement were able to survive -- flourish even.
“Baby’s Basement is an inclusive, sustainable vintage and pre-loved clothing and lifestyle brand. Our mission is to make it as affordable and cool to buy ethically as it is to shop fast fashion,” says the new shop owner.
Statistics Canada estimated that in March 2020, 54 533 businesses closed and in April 2020, about 2 million jobs were lost.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Canadian government’s response was “to provide eligible small employers a temporary wage subsidy for a period of three months”. Until June 6th, 2020, if businesses had a 30% decrease in gross revenue, they would be eligible for the Canada Economic Wage Subsidy. According to the government of Canada, the subsidy “would apply at a rate of 75 percent of the first $58,700 normally earned by employees – representing a benefit of up to $847 per week”.
Some small businesses like Knapturals, founded by 18-year-old Kristen Falconer, are able to stay running without support from the government. Knapturals is a brand focused on creating organic skincare, natural hair products and other self-care products. Since Falconer makes the products in her home and sells online, it has allowed her to avoid the common challenges of a business owner during a pandemic. Before the lockdown, Falconer attended her first showcase where she and other business owners were able to expand their demographic. “As a small business, it can be hard to get your brand out there because people always want a cheaper product or to stick to the brands they know. So being able to actually demo products and let people smell and test, it makes people more likely to make a purchase instead of just reading a description online”.
Stella, who originally started Baby’s Basement online in 2017, faced more prevalent problems of online selling. “After everything shut down, our online sales dramatically decreased since I wasn't able to source new vintage or do photoshoots on models any longer. There were also massive shipping delays which were extremely discouraging for all of our customers in and out of Oshawa”.
COVID- 19 has no intention of disappearing anytime soon. So, like everyone globally, business owners have had to adapt.
Social media has allowed businesses to gain traction, especially through the short video sharing app, TikTok: “ We started documenting our journey on TikTok and immediately gained a new audience. Crazy enough, Tiktok is one of the main reasons we were able to push through the lockdown,” says Stella. TikTok’s algorithms allow for higher chances of videos going viral. Since everyone is home and on their phone, this provides newer opportunities for business to expand.
Shopping online is the safest means to upkeep our impulsive desires. Many businesses have resorted to websites to sell their products or relied on their online presence to make income. “ We tried it all! Free shipping, flash sales, new and different inventory,” says Stella, but still notes the economical importance of having a physical store, “We were honestly done for until we took on the shopfront”. She opened her own storefront in October 2020.
However, stores aren’t the only business affected by the pandemic and social distancing protocols. Restaurants have also suffered immensely but, some have been able to stay in business when in-store services were shut down by using food delivery apps. According to CBC, “Skip the Dishes handled 23 million orders across Canada last quarter, almost double the pace of a year ago”. What you do not see are the fees that these restaurateurs have to pay these major corporations. Fees could be stretched up to 30% on an individual order. However, due to dire times, restaurant owners would “rather take 70 percent of something than nothing," says Amena Ali-Ridha, the co-owner of King Rustic in a CBC interview.
When businesses were able to open again, they had to adopt social distancing guidelines. To do so, they had to limit the number of customers within a store, ensuring masks were worn, providing sanitiser to customers and cleaning surfaces regularly. Although it was tedious and expensive, business owners quickly adapted.
On December 18th, Ontario reported 2 290 COVID-19 cases. The single-day cases were increasing as the holidays approached. The winter holiday is a prime time for stores due to the large need for gifts and finding the best deals. The increase of cases led Premier Doug Ford to make the responsible decision (in terms of physical health) to go into another lockdown on December 26th. During this second lockdown, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) estimated that “181,000 small entrepreneurs [were] seriously considering closing down their businesses,” according to Global News.
In December, the provincial government announced the new Ontario Small Business Support Grant. This grant offers the small business owners a minimum of $10 000 up to $20 000. To be eligible you
“Are required to close or significantly restrict services due to the Provincewide Shutdown being imposed across the province effective 12:01 a.m. on December 26
Have fewer than 100 employees at the enterprise level
Have experienced a minimum of 20 per cent revenue decline in April 2020 compared to April 2019.”
Although these requirements help the Ontario government narrow down businesses to assist, it can be inequitable towards others. “Since the business opened during 2020, we don't qualify. I have no insight as to how helpful it's been for others but it would have been nice to get that same support as a new small business,” says Stella. Since Baby’s Basement did not have a physical store in April 2020, this overthrew the store’s eligibility for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. She “started running Baby’s Basement online in late 2017 but only got the keys to the physical location in October 2020”.
“Small businesses are big players in our economy[...]Right now both government support and consumer behaviour are critical to transitioning back to conditions that allow businesses to survive and thrive”.
- Laura Jones, CFIB Executive Vice President
Our effort to support these businesses are not going unnoticed by the owners. “There are times when business is almost nonexistent and engagement is very low and sometimes I do actually feel like closing the store, but having support from other people and trying to stay optimistic has helped me keep my shop open,” says Falconer. There are various ways to support these businesses. The most inexpensive way is by sharing their social media profiles on your page or telling a friend; this helps their demographic to increase. Buying gift cards from online websites for friends and family encourages others to buy from the said business. When ordering from restaurants, see if the restaurant offers its own delivery services and if they do not, try the pickup option on the food delivery app instead. These small acts have a greater impact on the success of a business’s longevity.
It is coming close to a year since the world has entered the pandemic and we as a society have struggled with adapting to our new way of life. However, business owners have not stopped persevering, changing their business plans to accommodate new guidelines, nor do they let business closures stop them from pursuing their dreams. In this time of inconsistency, we have to continuously support these small businesses because they have not given up on this uphill battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Check out both of these amazing businesses!
13 King Street West Oshawa, ON, L1H 1A1, Canada
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Nijjar, Hark. Shoppers at clothing rack. 2020.
Nijjar, Hark. Conner Stella at her desk. 2020.
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