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Sudbury small businesses hurting amid COVID-19 shutdowns

It was a quiet St. Patrick's Day at local bars and restaurants

The Townehouse Tavern on Elgin Street was empty March 17 as the bartender watched Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s latest announcements regarding the COVID-19 crisis. 

Managers were downstairs talking about how to react and respond to news earlier in the day that Ontario Premier Doug Ford had closed all drinking establishments in the province as well as restaurants except for takeout or delivery service.

March 17, was St. Patrick’s Day, and normally one of the busiest days of the year for bars in Sudbury.

“We are usually packed on St. Patrick’s Day from opening to closing,” said one of the managers, Ryan Desjardins.

For now, the Townehouse kitchen is open for food orders through delivery app Skip the Dishes or takeout orders. The doors are not locked, but there is no bar service. Next door, the Laughing Buddha is closed.

Some staff have been laid off temporarily and given their ROE (Record of Employment) papers needed to collect Employment Insurance, said Desjardins. 

Business last Saturday night was busy despite concerns about social gatherings, he said.

Bands scheduled to play the Townehouse have been cancelled until at least the end of March. Information about future events is being posted to the Townehouse website.

The best place to be right now is at home and checking social media. Sudbury businesses are announcing plans to stay open or close on Facebook, Twitter and their websites. At the same time, many are using email and social media to continue to serve customers.

The majority of small business owners, like most citizens, have adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward future plans during the COVID-19 crisis. They say they haven’t heard anything specific about government emergency programs but like everyone they are watching news developments.

Calls were made to Sudbury MP Paul Lefebrve in Sudbury regarding any possible news about federal relief programs, but his office is closed due to the health crisis. A phone message refers people to his Facebook page for information.

Business owner Jane Cameron at Sudbury Custom Painting and Framing, also on Elgin, does not plan to close her store, at least for the time being.

There are orders to fill and deadlines to meet, said Cameron.

“We are concerned and we are careful, but we have work to do.”

Maureen Luoma, executive director of Downtown Sudbury, is keeping her offices on Larch Street open and fielding phone calls from her member businesses.

Many downtown restaurants had already reduced service to takeout or delivery before the premier’s announcement, she said.

Some retailers are closed temporarily while others are still able to take orders and serve customers through email and their websites, said Louma.

She is waiting to hear about relief programs that may be offered to hotels and restaurants through the Ministry of Tourism but is sympathetic to small business owners.

“We have many small businesses downtown. It is our strength. They are new and small and they do not have war chests.”

Golden Grain Bakery on Brady Street has plans to remain open until further notice. Bakers were in Monday to meet demand created by empty store shelves at supermarkets.

Adam Kehoe, owner of Badlands Tattoo on Elgin Street, has plans to remain open, although oral and facial piercings are not being offered. Staff recommend phoning to book an appointment.

Financial planner Brian Gilroy has seen several down cycles in the stock market. His advice to clients is to not to panic.

“Hold it, keep it. Sell it when the markets are good.” 

There is a lot of panic selling going on that he attributes to investors’ lack of knowledge of the stock market.

This downturn is “creating an opportunity for fund managers to buy,” at lower prices, he said. He expects the markets to return to normal within three to six months.