Small business owners in Niagara are losing thousands of dollars each time the province makes a late afternoon announcement when restrictions are about to change. Spoiled inventory, rapidly changing schedules, and lost foot traffic to big box stores are all challenges that continue to plague locally owned stores and services over a year into the pandemic.
"There will be more closures," said Hugo Chesshire, Director of Policy and Government Relations with the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, GNCC in an interview with Thoroldnews.com.
"Businesses have already taken all the loans, grants, and subsidies available from the government. Those we have been speaking to are understanding that there need to be stricter measures, but they are frustrated."
The Chamber said even a weeks' notice to the closures would help mitigate the losses felt by those trying to operate under the ever-changing rules.
Closely monitoring the changing business landscape in the region, Chesshire said change needs to happen not only in the way that the province supports businesses but also within the social sector, which needs to work properly in order for business to be healthy.
The most pressing concern: affordable housing.
"It's a workforce issue. People can't work if they don't have anywhere to live. Prices are going up everywhere, making cities unaffordable for workers. Businesses can't find employees, because they have to go somewhere else," Chesshire said.
"In business surveys, the number one concern is the lack of access to talent. They can't find the people they need, skilled people move out because their cost of living increases."
The Chamber has been working together with different stakeholders to push for more affordable developments, and recently was able to get acknowledgement from Niagara Falls' city council that there is an affordable housing crisis ongoing in the region, with a tight rental market and bidding wars on most properties listed.
Outside of the work connecting those who have not yet made use of emergency funding, and advocating for more relief on the local level, Chesshire said the chamber can only put its hope to the rollout of the vaccine, which eventually will see businesses be able to operate fully again.
In the meanwhile, 'Shop Local'-type campaigns are making a difference.
"We have been running our own campaign for a year now, and trying to get people through the door of businesses. Instead of just saying 'Would you please shop local,' we are trying to show deals that will get people to come down. Of course, the trouble is that you are up against giants like big box stores or Amazon. The best we can do is shine a spotlight on local business."