Over the noon hour across Toronto, small business owners stood outside holding signs, urging shoppers to “think outside the big-box.”
“People can flock to the big-box stores and shop unfettered without social distancing, without enough security to keep people separate and contained from each other, whereas small businesses have always since the beginning taken that into the utmost consideration,” said Keiley Routledge, owner of Small Wonders Pets on Danforth Avenue.
Chair of the Broadview-Danforth Business Improvement Area, Albert Stortchak, called for a level playing field with big-box stores.
Stortchak, who owns an antique lighting shop, asked for small businesses to be allowed to have in-store shopping on an appointment-only basis.
“We’re closed and arguably we are better able to protect the health of customers than big-box,” he said.
It was a sentiment echoed by the owner of Fermentations, Charles Fajgenbaum.
“You are far safer in a small business that cares than in a big-box store that cannot control what the population is doing,” he said.
The goal of the protest Friday was to encourage customers to shop local, but also to urge the Ford government to modify its restrictions during the lockdown, allowing the shops to open with strict safety rules in place.
Ginger Robertson, who owns two restaurants in the area, The Edmund Burke and Off the Hook, said the “mixed messaging” coming from the Ford government is hurting small businesses.
“You tell people to stay home, you tell people to go out only for essentials, and then you make them leave their neighbourhoods to go to big-box stores because that’s all that’s open,” she said.
Many of the shops along Danforth Avenue have been accepting online orders and offering curbside pick-up.
Elsie Hung of La Di Da Boutique said it is not the same as having shoppers enter inside the premises.
“Our type of store is really touchy-feely, you don’t know what you want until you come in. I don’t have anyone coming into the store so I can’t help them,” she said.
Also shut down amid the lockdown is hair salons.
Violet Volovik, co-owner of Bob + Paige Salon, said December is usually her busiest month.
“It is the holidays and we were completely booked, our business was at 50 per cent already, so it was very spaced out, there wasn’t a lot of people … my staff is very stressed out about not working,” she said.
Volovik said the neighbourhood is used to shopping locally, but “it’s challenging, it’s so much easier just to go on a computer and see things than coordinate with a small business.”
Keiley Routledge said she has seen some small businesses in the area already shut their doors, particularly neighbourhood restaurants, and worries without a lifeline from the government there could be others.
“Now we’re coming into the cold of winter, so people are going to be less likely to stand outside, or go for takeout, so it’s going to definitely be a different Danforth,” she said.
Toronto Coun. Paula Fletcher joined the small business owners and held up a sign in support of their efforts.
“It’s not a great Christmas present, it’s pretty grinchy for small business,” she said.
“This is when they make up their year going into the cold, lean days of a new year, February, March, January those are hard times so this is such a hit.”