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Survey says almost 40 per cent of Almaguin businesses worried about having to permanently close due to COVID-19.

'If you remove their (peoples’) opportunity to shop locally, then you give them enough reason to head out of town to spend their dollars'
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Bridget Reid is concerned for the survival of her business if COVID-19 restrictions continue.

“Depending on how long it goes on for, you still have the overhead costs of rent, utilities for your business, you’re putting money out without having money coming in. So over a prolonged period of time I could see that definitely being an issue for some businesses,” she said.

Self-employed at White Birch Hair Salon in Burk’s Falls, Reid says “everything literally stopped” when the pandemic started.

And while many of her clients want her to reopen, she says it’s unclear when she will be back.

“I’m just trying to take it day by day,” she said.

A recent survey from Almaguin Community Economic Development (ACED) found almost 40 per cent of businesses are worried about having to permanently close due to COVID-19.

The survey was conducted over the first three weeks of April and received 103 responses, representing roughly 16 per cent of businesses across the Almaguin Highlands region.

Although Reid did not take the survey, she says she hasn’t made any profit since March 15, with the uncertainty one of the more difficult parts of the quarantine.

The additional costs of purchasing personal protective equipment also need to be factored in before she can reopen.

“That’s going to be a lot of overhead costs as well,” she said. “But just being able to get your hands on it is even more of a difficult process.”

ACED director of economic development David Gray says the survey “paints a pretty clear picture” that the region is facing some challenges, with downtown businesses and the accommodation and tourism industry being especially hard hit.

He says there are tourism businesses that are “the backbone” of the region’s seasonal and year-round economies. A lot of people also have seasonal cottages or campground season passes, he added.

Gray says the effects of COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on local businesses.

“If you remove their (peoples’) opportunity to shop locally, then you give them enough reason to head out of town to spend their dollars,” he said. “It’s hard to convince them to come back and spend locally.”

Almost half of businesses surveyed said they had to lay off staff and just under 80 per cent said they are predicting an annual loss in revenue of 25 per cent.

“It’s a pretty stark number to look at when you consider that a lot of what’s drawing both permanent and seasonal residents, as well as visitors, into our downtown cores are those great food-drink options, are great retail options, and other tourism products that are available to them,” Gray said.

He says the data can be used to find solutions for local businesses. The creation of a COVID-19 economic action team is expected to be discussed at the next meeting of the Almaguin Highlands Chamber of Commerce.

For the time being, Gray says ACED is doing its best to connect local businesses with the supports they need.

Get more information on the survey here.

Mackenzie Casalino, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget.

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

About the Author: Mackenzie Casalino

Mackenzie Casalino is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The LJI is funded by the government of Canada
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