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“They’re losing their businesses; they’re losing their homes.” Burk’s Falls Businesses Band Together

“They’re losing their businesses; they’re losing their homes.” Burk’s Falls Businesses Band Together

Posted: 2022-01-12 08:57:08 By: Daniel
The Setup

With the Omicron variant spreading like wildfire through Ontario, as the province regularly reports daily case counts above ten thousand, a regression into heavier public health restrictions was to be expected. The most recent changes which came into effect only a week ago call for half capacity in retail settings and a return to takeout and delivery functions only at restaurants. While the intention of the restrictions is to lessen the increase in patients to already overloaded healthcare systems, the impact on other sectors cannot be ignored.


The COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout have strained Canada to its economic limits, let alone the nation’s medical and social limits. Bearing the brunt of this are the mom and pop shops, the local cafes and niche emporiums—the small businesses which, according to Statistics Canada in early 2021, make up a whopping 98.0 per cent of employer businesses in Canada.


But statistics and statements about “small businesses” don’t capture the reality of the situation: “small businesses” aren’t suffering, human beings are. It goes beyond lost profits.


Solidarity in Burk’s Falls

One day Jean Varcoe, a resident of Burk’s Falls, overheard a conversation at a local coffee shop in which they wondered about how they were going to manage to make money through this pandemic. It’s a story we’ve all heard countless times in what has almost been two years now. It was then that she thought to herself, “Someone has to do something. And, well, maybe I can do something.”


So Varcoe contacted many of the locally owned businesses in Burk’s Falls to put together a show of solidarity. That’s a very intentional choice in words; Varcoe made it clear that what she and the others have organized is not a protest. “I want this to be peaceful. It’s not about anything else, it’s about helping [the businesses] any way we can.” She says it’s not anti-mask or anti-vax, or “anti-anything.” In fact, she encourages participants to take part in this while abiding public health guidelines such as physical distancing.


Many businesses such as North Spring Mercantile, Roxx Consignments, Yolande's Hairstyling, and Yettis Pizza (to name only a handful) are in solidarity with the outreach, which is taking place today at noon on the sidewalk outside Burk’s Falls Café and Grill.


For more detail, listen to the full interview with Jean Varcoe here.


Beyond Lost Profits

As mentioned before, talking about how restaurants and other small businesses are making less money does not capture the full scope of what can happen as a result of the restrictions.


Tracy Delfino of Burk’s Falls Café and Grill shared her experience. One of the hardest parts, according to her, is finding and training new employees, or hoping old employees will come back after having been laid off due to the lack of funds to keep them on. Another issue particular to restaurants is being able to accurately predict what business will be like and ordering the appropriate amounts of food product lest it go to waste. These factors are compounded with the fact that as with so many other communities in Muskoka, Burk’s Falls relies on tourism for a substantial chunk of its economy—making winter a tough time regardless of the pandemic. Having to go through a round of this already last winter, Delfino says that they don’t have the savings for it this time around, adding, “If this goes on for a couple months, I don’t know if we’ll be able to recover from this financially.”


Of course, there are government aids, but there are stipulations and exceptions that can bar many small businesses which desperately need the help. Delfino finds herself questioning why restaurants and gyms in particular are seeing this when, in her words, “We contact trace, we are diligent about disinfecting, we keep all of our papers of the people who have come in for a month […] everybody’s signed in, everybody’s vaccinated.”


The impacts of this extend to the customers and the community too, she says. According to Delfino, many of her elderly customers come in not just for the food, but because the socializing is an important part of their life and their mental health. Without that, many elderly folks become significantly more isolated than younger people who are at least more socially connected through other means.


Above, the extent to which customers can enter the cafe. Below, Tracy Delfino and her husband, owners of the cafe and grill.


In Closing

It is understandable why these restrictions have been put in place. One nurse can only care for so many sick patients, and the new variant has skyrocketed admissions rates while absenteeism is also increasing. Varcoe acknowledges this and expressed her sentiments of support, adding that the government needs to be paying healthcare workers appropriately.

Whether you agree or disagree with the Ford government’s choices during this pandemic, surely we can all agree that we should support local businesses and the people behind them. As Jean says, “if we would think a bit, and help each other just a teeny bit, you will get it back tenfold.”