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Local demonstration draws attention to 'inequality' of lockdown (5 photos)

'It’s just kind of like you’re throwing us to the wolves and it’s not fair,' says business owner

More than 30 people converged on a west Orillia business Wednesday to draw attention to how the latest lockdown is hurting local shops.

The Stand Up for Small Businesses demonstration was organized by Gilles Depratto, whose son, Jordan, co-owns BOSS Supplements and the neighbouring HQ Fit Studio on Diana Drive.

“Basically, it’s just to show support for the businesses in town,” Depratto said.

While BOSS Supplements is able to operate at 25 per cent capacity, HQ Fit Studio was ordered to close along with other gyms and other types of businesses, such as hair salons.

HQ Fit Studio wanted to open with one-on-one training, meaning only two people would be in the 1,200-square-foot space at a time.

“The price of one hour would only cover, basically, the rent and insurance, but at least they’d break even,” Depratto said.

He noted BOSS Supplements is having a sale on the weekend, “hoping to raise enough money to support two businesses — one that’s closed and one that’s at 25 per cent.”

Depratto wants to see the lockdown rules modified “so that small businesses can open.”

“Even if they can open at 25 per cent, they could cover their bills,” he said.

Organizers followed COVID-19 guidelines during Wednesday’s demonstration, keeping their distance while standing at marked points in the parking lot and waiting their turn to enter BOSS Supplements.

Among those in line was Deena Chivers, owner of Vivid Salon.

“All of our small businesses need support,” she said. “We’ve been shut down. This is the third time. We are not anti-mask. What we are is wanting everything to be fair.”

She said she and her staff follow all of the necessary guidelines.

“It’s so strict, and we feel like other businesses are allowed to be open without the same protocols,” Chivers said.

“I can go to Costco, Walmart, the grocery store, and they say that they’re limiting people, but they aren’t,” Chivers said, adding she checked out some of the larger retailers earlier in the day and didn’t see anyone at the doors to keep track of how many people were entering. “That’s where I feel the inequality is.”

It’s not just about making money, she said.

“We’re shut down. We can’t work, and it’s very difficult. I’ve owned this business for 16 years and it‘s very hard. It’s hard on everybody,” she said.

“It’s hard on my staff and it’s hard on the clients, and we feel that with mental health being where it is right now, we are a part of making people feel good, just like the gyms and spas and yoga studios. They help everyone feel better about themselves.”

Jess Mogan agreed.

The owner of Jess Mogan Fitness rents space at HQ Fit Studio.

“When we were able to get back into the gym, it was fantastic,” she said. “Everybody was so happy. Within even two weeks, they noticed a huge difference in their mental health and their physical health, myself included.”

The reaction was the opposite when Simcoe County and Muskoka were ordered back into the grey zone recently.

“They were crying and they were upset,” Mogan said. “They’re struggling mentally and physically.”

“I’m not against locking down at all,” she added. “I believe COVID is real and I’m not anti-mask, but I am pro-fairness and I’m pro-full measure, not half-measure. I can go to Winners, HomeSense, McDonald’s and the LCBO, but I’m not allowed to work on my fitness and health.”

If small businesses can adapt, decision makers should, too, Mogan said.

“I would like more logical decisions made,” she said. “As business owners, we pivot, so I think the government should pivot more. If you’re trying something and it isn’t working, maybe pivot again and re-evaluate.”

Joanna Coles, co-owner of BOSS Supplements and HQ Fit Studio, said Wednesday’s demonstration was about showing support for all small businesses that are struggling.

“We have so many friends that are also business owners. We know so many businesses are struggling right now. They’re on the verge of going bankrupt,” she said.

“We all kind of feel that if everyone was going to lock down, (including) big-box stores, we would be 100 per cent on board, but we’re seeing big gatherings in those stores. They’re spreading COVID around. We know the numbers aren’t coming from small spaces like ours.”

Coles feels it is “ridiculous” that HQ Fit Studio can’t open to provide one-on-one training for clients, and it’s hurting the bottom line.

“We don’t have rent relief because we’re a new business,” she said. “We can’t show any of our tax records from last year. So, it’s just kind of like you’re throwing us to the wolves and it’s not fair.”

Coun. Ralph Cipolla learned about the gathering and decided to check it out for himself.

“We need to support our small businesses no matter where they are, as long as they follow the proper rules and etiquette,” he said, adding he was impressed by how everything went Wednesday. “I’m really pleased to see everybody supporting it.”

Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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