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Well-known North Bay business woman: 'Minimum wage increase put me out of business after 29 years'

'It has 100 per cent put me out of business. They gave me no choice' Cathy Strawn owner of Wingate Lottery

Cathy Strawn, the owner of Wingate Lottery in North Bay, blames the province's minimum wage increase for putting her out of business after 29 years. 

"It has 100 per cent put me out of business. They gave me no choice," said Strawn about having to sell her businesses.

"As soon as they put the wage up to $14 an hour, I knew I'd be in trouble." 

Strawn has three lottery businesses.

"It's all set hours, and my product is a set product. I can't raise my prices, I can't cut my hours, all I can do is pay $40,000 a year more for salaries. And that's not an exaggerated number. I did not make $40,000 last year. I'm working for less than nothing," said Strawn.

"The Ontario government has backed everyone into a corner. Not only do I have to pay more in wages, per person, I have to pay sick pay two days a year. So far this year I've paid six extra days because my staff has called in sick. The government did not think this through. It couldn't have. I'm not begrudging minimum wage. I just can't do anything about it. I can't increase my product to recoup the increase."

The business owner says she knew in January she would have to cut hours.

"I've got everyone down to a bare minimum now, and I had to come back to work, and I still wasn't going to make money. In fact, I still was going to lose money. So I had no choice. I knew that unless I came back to work, 60 to 70 hours a week, I wouldn't make any money. And I don't want to. I'm 62. I don't want to."

Even if the minimum wage hadn't gone up, Strawn says she still would not have been making a lot of money, but at least she could have stayed home and taken care of her husband who is in poor health, and paid someone to help cover her shifts.

"Everything would have been fine, I would have waited out my two and a half year lease, and then I would have exited nicely, but they just accelerated it. So, April 30th is my last day. A company called Gateway Newstands has bought my three leases out. It will take over May 1st." 

Strawn says business started to go south with a previous wage increase.

"A couple of years ago when the wages went up, it really hurt my business, but I still was able to make a little bit of money and enjoy my life at work. Now that's its gone up to $14 an hour, I'm going to lose money. To make it work, it has to be a couples operation." 

After nearly three decades on the job, Strawn says she is experiencing a range of emotions; anger, frustration, disappointment, and sadness. She says she feels she's being pushed out, instead of leaving on her own terms. 

"I love my job. I love my customers. I love taking care of my customers. I didn't want to leave them early. Two and a half years I was mentally going to be ready for retirement. I would be close to 65. I'm not ready yet. Without the increase, I wouldn't be selling." 

She will be missed. Regular customers, Jerry Collette, and his sister Maryanne were shocked to hear the news of her leaving. 

"It's hard because she's been here for quite a while. She's really good to her customers and she always has a friendly face and so we're going to miss her," said Jerry.

"I think it's very sad, and there's no need for it," said Maryanne.

"She's a hard worker, she's very kind, always in a good mood, and we enjoy having her around."    

Wingate has a reputation for giving back to the community, by donating to charitable organizations. 

"We chose the Rotary Club, Crime Stoppers, and a hockey association. My Nevada organization's commitments will be met for the next two and a half years."

The time she has left with her customers is slowly coming to an end.

"The next month will be turbulent. I'm going to be crying all of April because I'm saying goodbye to my customers. It's going to be very sad because I've had so much fun with my customers. For 29 years I've seen little kids grow up. I've seen old people get older. They all know my name. They're family. I love it. I really love my job."