How Local Businesses are Surviving COVID-19

Amidst the turbulence and uncertainty brought on by the global COVID-19 crisis, the resilience and humanity of our local small business community remain a constant source of light. To those who run the cafés, restaurants, shops and spaces that make this city feel like home: we see you, now more than ever, ironically. 

Throughout this challenging time, we’ve been checking in with local business owners, collecting ways to help ensure that they’re able to re-open when the time comes and greet us on the other side of this thing. 

Here’s what we found out.

After briefly maintaining service through their take-out window on King St., Uptown’s Princess Café is one of many small businesses that has made the difficult decision to close.  

“Part of it was my own mental health,” owner and operator Marc Lecompte said.I was debating whether or not it was responsible to even be doing takeout, preparing and selling food. Our community is full of great people who wanted to keep coming out to support us as an independent business, but it just didn’t feel right.”

“We’ve just been trying our best to work with what we have and make it as good of a situation as we can for our staff and our community,” he added. “Basically, sanity is the most important thing to us right now.”

When the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) announced that restaurants now have the option to sell alcohol for takeaway along with food purchases, Lecompte decided to experiment with the operation of a takeaway beer shop and bake sale. The first of which was piloted last Saturday and turned out to be a raging success overall. 

“We always have a really great selection of beer in the café,” Lecompte said. “It’s a great way for us to move product, and it’s great for consumers because they can avoid going to the LCBO. I think it’s a safer thing for us to sell since we can sanitize every can and every bottle and make sure things are pre-packaged for pick-up.” 

“Plus,” he added, “almost all the beers we carry are fairly local and are not available in the LCBO.”

Lecompte is definitely not the only local business owner who has used this situation as an opportunity to shift or hone his focus. 

Like many others in the restaurant industry, our friends at Belmont Village’s Arabella Park are sharing in the excitement over the ACGO’s announcement. 

“It’s been such a whirlwind,” Nat Schnurr, co-owner and general manager of Arabella Park said. “But it’s weird how this pandemic, a massive global struggle, is creating change and new opportunities for people. The situation evolves every day, and through it all there are things to be grateful for.

The independent beer bar acted fast in adjusting to the new situation, championed by Schnurr’s latest motto, “it’s adapt, or die!”

“It’s 100 per cent like opening a new business because we don’t cater to takeout,” Schnurr said.

“We’re all about social interaction and the presentation of our food, [so] we’ve been hustling around the clock to make this new business model work,” she added. “[We] were lucky enough to receive help getting our website up-and-running [thanks to] some of our regulars who work at Shopify.,”

The Arabella team has been blown away by the success of this new business model; Schnurr described their first full day of service as both incredible and overwhelming. 

“There was a great buzz in the air and our community was just waiting to support us,” Schnurr said. “We’ve been working fourteen-hour days, and everybody is so tired, but that’s kind of what this scenario calls for,” she added.

“Luckily we all really love each other and believe in our collective goal of getting the good beer to the good people.”

In other areas of the small business sector, niche shops like Gifted Waterloo are struggling to find new and socially responsible ways to offer their products. 

“I closed the shop doors over two weeks ago and for a little while I was able to sell puzzles and other at-home activities through contact-less delivery but, eventually I had to re-think it. It didn’t sit well with me,” owner Sylvia Horn said.

While Gifted continues to work on their e-commerce site and other exciting community-based projects, Horn, like many others in her situation, is selling gift cards to those who want to show their support. 

“The response has been incredible,” Horn said, adding that she has been brought tears of joy with each new day.

“It’s so amazing to see how much people want to support their local businesses and ensure that it’s not just the big box stores left when this is all over,” she added. “It’s given me the fire to keep trying through all of this.”

“It’s going to take as long as it’s going to take, but I’m already brainstorming ways to show my appreciation when it’s all over.”

As similar thoughts and feelings resonate across the entire community, perhaps the best thing we can do is resign ourselves to the simple fact that we’re all in this together. 

Kitchener-Waterloo is known for its strong, relentless sense of community, and if there is one thing we can collectively offer to one another, it’s our unwavering empathy and support. 

Listed below are several more local businesses that have adapted their services in order to enforce social distancing. For a more comprehensive list, check out this open and shared Google spreadsheet, updated by community champions on an on-going basis. Feel free to contribute to the list and share with your friends and loved ones.

And remember, if you have the means to support a local business, there has never been a better time to do so!