Coronavirus: Several small business across Canada pledge to defy lockdown restrictions

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WATCH ABOVE: Mark Carcasole speaks with an Oshawa, Ont., gym owner who says the move to reopen is a last resort – Feb 4, 2021

Tucked in the back end of a small commercial lot on Bloor Street West in Oshawa, One Stop Training sits empty.

But for its owner and operator, Jada Curry, she spends her days at the small gym keeping the mats clean, the pipes unfrozen and the sanitizer bottles neatly arranged as if her next clients will be popping in any minute.

With the gym forced closed due to coronavirus-related health guidelines, those clients, mostly young kids, won’t be here any time soon. She has maintained contact with them through online Zoom lessons, which she said she offers for free to keep them healthy and motivated.

“I didn’t open this place to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to get rich,’” said Curry.

“I opened it to say I want to help society. I want to help kids … and I’m not allowed to do it.”

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As far back as last summer, Curry said she began taking every precaution to operate her gym safely. She said she does temperature checks at the door, conducts detailed contact tracing, and sections her training mats off into eight individual stations where a person can work out each.

“Every station has a Lysol spray that can stay on the equipment, a COVID-19 spray and a hand sanitizer,” she pointed out.

However, with gyms deemed unessential, the facility has been closed since Ontario’s second COVID-19 lockdown took effect in late December.

Read more: Small businesses that survive coronavirus have difficult recovery ahead, experts say

Like many other small business owners, it is the second lockdown Curry has been forced to endure. She admitted the gym has only survived this one because “my 71-year-old mother has been pulling out her RRSPs to keep the place afloat and then getting taxed by the government.”

Curry said she is thankful for her mother’s generosity, but that it also breaks her heart to see her take money out of her retirement fund.

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“I wanted her to see the world,” she said.

Curry said the current situation spurred her to join an online movement of Canadian small business owners planning to reopen their doors on Feb. 11 in defiance of provincial lockdown orders.

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Read more: 1 in 10 Canadian businesses may never recover from coronavirus, industry group says

She said she understands the negative attention that may come with joining such a movement. Wearing a clear, plastic face shield during her interview with Global News, Curry said she is not an “anti-masker” or conspiracy theorist, but rather a business owner out of options.

“It is emotional for me,” she said as her eyes redden and well up.

As of Thursday evening, the website for the protest, organized by a group called “We Are All Essential,” has a list of 126 businesses from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec who have purportedly vowed to open their doors on Feb. 11.

One business in Toronto called by Global News Wednesday night claimed it was listed there erroneously and it was later removed from the page.

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The organizers of the event did not respond to an interview request on Thursday.

Asked about the event at a news conference Thursday, Mayor John Tory urged calm and said he would leave responding up to the City’s municipal licensing and standards team.

“The enforcement people will do what they do, but the bottom line is that there will be a staged reopening, I’m sure, that will take place starting at a time to be determined by the provincial government in consultation with (the City), and I hope people will follow that program,” he said.

Estimating that this pandemic could end up costing Canada 20 per cent of its business community, the president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said he understands the anger and frustration of owners. However, Dan Kelly said he doesn’t endorse the planned action.

READ MORE: Coffee shops battle to stay in business amid pandemic

“I can tell you, it’s a quick way to lose your business too … for those entrepreneurs that are taking that step, it is a real gamble,” he told Global News..

With Ontario Premier Doug Ford hinting at an announcement focused on the province’s economy next week, Kelly said the CFIB plans to continue lobbying Queen’s Park for a partial reopening.

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“We have been promoting at CFIB that all small businesses be allowed to reopen with a 20 per cent capacity restriction,” he said.

“It’s not going to be enough to allow businesses to return to profitability and to succeed, but it may be enough to allow them to eke out enough of a living, enough sales revenue, so that they can survive until vaccines are in place and we can start to reopen the economy in a bigger way.”

READ MORE: Toronto small business owners plead with shoppers to ‘think outside the big-box’

Meanwhile, Curry, like many others, said she is tired of waiting, noting her frustration was furthered by seeing numerous Canadian politicians go against their own advice and travelling over the holidays.

She said she knows she’s risking a fine by opening her doors on Feb. 11 and by speaking publicly about it. However, Curry said it’s worth it not just for the money, but because she knows first hand the positive impact exercise and discipline can have during tough times.

“I was an addict … I’ve been clean almost 20 years now. But the gym saved my life,” she said.

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