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Local store owners fear lockdown could put their businesses in peril

'I don’t know if we are going to make it through this lockdown, I’m 100% nervous,' said weary local store owner
The Coffee & More Store, owner, Shayne Leigh, is offering curbside pickup to her customers during the province-wide lockdown.

Several local businesses are barely hanging on and fear a poor Valentine's Day could put them in peril.

The Coffee & More Store, a giftware and coffee store on Memorial Avenue, is experiencing record low sales since the holiday season, says owner Shayne Leigh.

“Things are unbelievably slow. It’s worse during this lockdown than it was the last time,” Leigh said.

“It’s been a totally different ball game. People don’t want to shop because they are worried about going out.”

Sales are currently down well over 80% from this time last year, Leigh says.

“We have dated products in our store, our coffee has an expiry date and there is a chance that we are going to lose a lot,” she said.

During the lockdown, Leigh has been offering her customers non-contact, curbside pick-up and has made some deliveries to her elderly customers. With Valentine’s Day holiday on the horizon, Leigh is hoping she will be able to allow people back into her store in time for what is an important date for some retailers.

“Being closed for Valentine’s Day would be huge. In a normal year, that is a time when people come in to buy the extra special coffee they don’t buy all year, they buy the giftware. I really hope we aren’t closed then, but it’s not looking good,” she said.

Leigh fears she could potentially lose her business, which was thriving for over four years before the pandemic struck.

“We were definitely on the upswing. We were doing extremely well, but I don’t know if it’s going to help me get through. It was supposed to help me grow my business, not just survive,” she said.

Leigh says the Orillia community has been supportive and helpful and she’s hoping the continued support will help her business survive the lockdown.

“I don’t know if we are going to make it through this lockdown, I’m 100 per cent nervous,” she said.

Street’s Flower Shop, a 125-year-old flower and giftware store on Coldwater Road West, had a surprisingly strong December where it saw sales increase from an average year.

“We’ve been really fortunate to have such great support from our community. We’ve been able to help bring people and the community together through our flowers,” said co-owner Sharon Street.

“It’s a first-hand reminder of how powerful flowers can be, and the emotional connection that people have with flowers.”

Like most other local businesses, Street’s Flower Shop has its challenges, too. Street and her husband, Rob, have been working through the lockdown after being forced to lay off most of their staff.

“My husband and I are working harder now than we ever have in our lives. We can’t have people in the store working side by side for safety reasons, so sometimes we’ll design all morning and then deliver all afternoon,” Street explained.

During the lockdown, Street’s is offering curbside pick-up, delivery, and online shopping.

With the perennial massive revenue-generating Valentine’s Day coming up, Street is unsure what to expect this year.

"It’s going to be a surprise because we’ve never operated through Valentine’s Day like this before. It’s anyone’s guess,” she said.

“We are anticipating that if people can’t go for dinner, that instead, flowers will bring these people together.”

Street is hoping people will turn to flowers for their Valentine’s Day gift, as it’s a way to bring light, colour, and positive vibes to those struggling with pandemic stress and depression.

“Flowers always reduce stress, generate happiness, and increase positive energy, which is good for everyone’s mental health,” she explained.

While January has been off to a slow start, Street is optimistic that her family's iconic flower shop will survive the lockdown.

“Usually this is a quiet time of year, minus Valentine’s Day, so we will have to see. We are going to stay optimistic,” she said.

One of the things working in the favour of Street’s is a new demographic that has been buying flowers during the pandemic.

“We are very optimistic about our future (as) there is now a new generation who has learned to understand the power of giving flowers. We have a lot of younger customers now, which is amazing,” Street said.

Sarahannedipity, a jewellery store on Mississaga Street East, has seen sales plummet compared to this time last year.

“We had a really successful Boxing Week sale, and it’s been crickets ever since,” said owner Sarah Anne Moleme.

“I think everybody is tapped out now, it’s very stressful. My staff and I are trying to come up with ways to try and turn things around. It’s as scary as can be.”

Currently, Sarahannedipity is open for curbside pick-up only, however, Moleme has retained most of her staff to this point, but things will be looking bleak if the lockdown gets extended, she warned.

“We will either have to become a full-fledged online business, or there is an alternative that I don’t even want to think about,” she said.

Moleme is hopeful that the upcoming Valentine’s Day can provide a silver lining for the quiet winter shopping months.

“We began planning today for what we will be offering for Valentine’s Day, but it’s not looking so easy right now. We hope Valentine’s Day will be a good thing for us and we can turn the ship around a little,” she said.

“We’ve got to find a way to market and push, even though it feels like we are living in the twilight zone right now, and it’s so quiet it’s eerie,” she said.

Finding new ways of doing business and getting creative is something Moleme has been trying to do in order to survive the lockdown.

Moleme has transformed an office space into a studio where she plans on making YouTube videos in an effort to get people interested in making jewellery, which she hopes would translate into a new revenue stream.

Moleme says she is beyond thankful for the community support during the pandemic, and she hopes the continued support will help her business come out of the lockdown alive and thriving.

“The bittersweet thing is everybody has been really supportive of us, we truly have an amazing community. If it weren’t for the community we wouldn’t be here in the first place,” she said.

Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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