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Retail landscape shifting; Mariposa Market closes, Epps goes online

Ellwood Epps moving to virtual sales; 'Every non-essential business should follow suit,' owner says
2018-03-23 Ellwood Epps1
Ellwood Epps Sporting Goods owner Wes Winkel is pictured. Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters file photo

Wes Winkel doesn’t care if people think he’s jumping the gun by taking all of his business online in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re doing this whether it’s a sound business decision or not,” said the owner of Ellwood Epps Sporting Goods in Severn Township. “The decision was made expecting to take a hit, but so far, we have had great support from our educated clientele.”

Ellwood Epps has two locations on Highway 11 — a hunting store and a fishing store. Winkel said the temporary move to online-only shopping at his business is a way to “flatten the curve.”

“We need to socially distance ourselves. We need to stop lining up at stores,” he said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this in my lifetime. I don’t think anybody has. We’re in unprecedented times.”

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise rapidly, Winkel is urging other businesses to take the same action.

“Every non-essential business should follow suit,” he said. “If the European model has taught us anything, it’s that the time to act is today, not tomorrow, not the day after.”

Certain businesses can operate only online, but that isn’t the case for many others in the area, including some cafés and restaurants.

Mariposa Market announced Monday it was closing temporarily. The store is now shut down.

“It is with a very heavy heart that I am announcing that the Mariposa Market will be temporarily closed in light of the current health crisis,” reads a Facebook message from the downtown business.

“This was an extraordinarily difficult decision we felt necessary for our staff and for our customers. The Mariposa Market has a responsibility to do whatever it can to assist our community in overcoming this challenge.”

Nathan Brown, president of the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce, expects there will be more announcements like that to come.

“My gut feeling is we’ll all be shut down by Thursday at the latest,” he said, adding he expects it will happen by government order. “I can’t see them continuing.”

Brown has spoken with business owners and said there’s a sense of uncertainty since the COVID-19 situation is “changing by the hour.”

“Nobody really knows how this is going to affect them,” he said.

Brown is general manager of Thor Motors, which has intensified its sanitation measures and has “split the staff,” having them work on opposite days.

Auto dealerships are not able to move entirely online. While the bulk of their sales process can be completed online, the final transaction cannot.

Brown urges businesses that have to shut down temporarily to use that time to prepare for the realities of reopening, which will come with its own challenges.

“We have a business-planning opportunity here,” he said. “There will be negatives, but look at the positives that can come out of this.”

He said the chamber will work on a strategy to assist its members "once the federal and provincial governments make it clear what they're doing for affected businesses."

The chamber has temporarily closed its doors to the public. The offices of Service Ontario, in the same building, are still open and will remain so until it is directed by the government to do otherwise.