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Coronavirus: How small businesses in the Greater Toronto Area are working to stay open

Click to play video 'Small Business, Neighbourhood Gem: Swag Sisters in Toronto' Small Business, Neighbourhood Gem: Swag Sisters in Toronto
It's been three months since Ontario entered a state of emergency and unessential small businesses had to close. Now, as local shops begin to re-open, many small business owners are focused on surviving. Melanie Zettler highlights some favourite, neighbourhood small businesses in a new weekly series – Jun 25, 2020

It would be hard to imagine any Toronto neighbourhood strip without a popular, independent coffee shop or a favourite, small-batch bakery or a unique gift shop.

These small businesses give neighbourhoods personality and character but they also account for 60 per cent of all private-sector employment jobs (based on Statistics Canada figures from 2019).

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, small businesses contribute half of Canada’s GDP, employ over half of employed Canadians, and are the engine of communities.

Most businesses have suffered due to the impacts of COVID-19, but restaurants, bars, lounges, independent shoe and clothing stores, salons and barber shops have been the hardest hit.

READ MORE: Small business closures threaten Toronto’s culture, owners say

As Global News continued to report on the hardships faced by small business owners, an idea was born — the series called Small Business … Neighbourhood Gem would invite viewers to nominate their favourite shops to be featured on Global News at 5:30 p.m.

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The first nomination came from Wendy Dobrijevic who wrote Global News and said the owner of Bogart Home and Decor Consignment in west Oakville “spent the week before prepping and making it beautiful for the reopening, including a sanitation station at entry with lovely lavender smelling hand sanitizer and encouraging everyone to wear a mask.”

Dobrijevic described items in the store as “so beautiful and different that it’s hard not to want to look more closely at things.”

Another nomination came from Melanie Cote, a regular at Swag Sisters independent toy shop in the Little India nighbourhood.

“They know the kids in the neighourhood, they know what they like and they know their store really well,” said Cote.

READ MORE: New website appeals for donations to Toronto businesses closed amid pandemic

Swag Sisters co-owner Erin Salisbury told Global News they have had to shift to an ordering and delivery model.

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Customers who live within a certain radius of the store can opt for free porch delivery, but since loot bags and birthday parties are the shop’s real money maker the owners have taken a financial hit.

“Our numbers are down. It’s a lot more work to do a lot less sales,” said Salisbury.

A little further east in the Beaches neighbourhood, Xola — an authentic Mexican restaurant — was nominated by Janice Hawke.

The owner and chef, Mali Fernendez, told Global News she immediately switched to a take-out only business and thanks to her loyal customers, she has been able to stay in business so far.

If you have a small, independent business to nominate, you can email: YourGTA@globalnews.ca