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Lockdown putting pressure on Durham business owners

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WATCH: It's no secret small businesses have been suffering since the pandemic started. While many are looking for an escape, the province has kept furthering restrictions and placed a second emergency order into effect. As Aaron Streck reports, time is starting to run out for one local establishment – Jan 18, 2021

It’s no secret small businesses have been suffering since the pandemic started.

While many are looking for an escape, the province has kept furthering restrictions and placed a second emergency order into effect.

Like many businesses in the pandemic, escape rooms have also felt confined by COVID-19.

Benito Suppa, who has co-owned Durham Escape Rooms in Whitby for the past five years, says their busiest season was interrupted by the second lockdown.

“We have 6,200 square feet, a lot of unusable space — the rent doesn’t stop, the utilities doesn’t stop, taxes doesn’t stop,” said Suppa.

Ten months into the pandemic, Suppa says the business has lost over $600,000 in revenue.

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While he’s been able to get some financial help from the government, Suppa says he hasn’t been able to collect anything on hydro subsidies.

“We actually got turned down because we were paying our bill, so we actually got punished for not lapsing on our bills,” said Suppa.

Despite being able to operate his 10 themed escape rooms as usual in the summer months, like many other establishments, he’s had to restructure his operation.

“We created puzzle hunts online, so they are narrative-based sequences that people can go and purchase and play from the comfort of their own home and then we actually digitized an actual escape game, so we went into a real-life game and took pictures of everything and made point-and-click areas,” said Suppa.

Moshe Lander, an economics professor at Concordia University, says the businesses that are adapting “are the ones that will survive.”

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Lander says what the pandemic has done is expose that certain industries aren’t operating with a model that’s sustainable — that includes entertainment.

“These businesses are going to have to recognize that we might get a reprieve at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. Who knows how long that’s going to last,” said Lander.

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“This is going to be one of those major sectoral shifts that’s a once-in-a-generation sort of thing that we’re going to have to watch for.”

As for Suppa, he’s hoping he can hang on and escape this lockdown and not have to lock up and throw away the key on his business.

“It’s not just the business owners — everyone is getting hit so we’re just hoping at some point it comes back to some semblance of normal,” said Suppa.

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