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Downtown Merchants Facing An Uphill Struggle To Get Back On Track

Frank Gataveckas, the owner of Vinyland at 41 Mill Street East, has put up a sign that reads 'Business as Unusual'. Those three words sum up the situation for many Acton retailers and service providers. Although the Ontario government has recently eased some of the COVID-19 restrictions for retail operations with street access, most Acton store owners see a long struggle ahead to regain profitability. Gataveckas estimates he has lost $20,000 in revenue during the two months he was forced to shut down. Although he has applied for compensation from the CERB fund, it won't be enough to cover the shortfall. Like other retailers, he's installed a plexiglass shield around the cash register and painted directional arrows on the floor.

“We're also offering gloves to everyone,” he stated. “We're allowed to have 10 people in the store but we've cut it down to five. Thankfully, this last week, business has been good.” Cathy Meth; joint owner of the Acton Music Centre, has been largely impacted by the pandemic. Music lessons are the core of her business and they are not currently being offered. “The store is open now but we haven't been able to do lessons for two months and we usually gave about 55 lessons per week,” she said. “At least it's given me time to catch up on the books and evaluate where the business is going.”

Tic-Toc Watch and Clock repairs has been re-opened for a week after being closed for two months. But even before the lockdown, owner Robert Sawicki noticed that business had fallen off. “Already in March we were seeing a drop in revenue. I don't think it will come back right away, it'll take time to recover,” he said. “Same with all the other stores, retailers and restaurants, in a few months we will see. It's too early to tell.”

Many Acton restaurants remain open for take out or delivery, but have to be creative to adapt to the new situation. “I've made a lot of changes to the menu and specials. I've owned every type of restaurant, so I'm mixing it up now,” says Tommy Papakonstantinou; owner and chef at Tommy's Grill and Bar. Papakonstantinou is under no illusions that the take out business is enough to get him out of debt, but he's thankful that the Ontario government now allows him to discount liquor and beer sales. Customers are allowed to order alcoholic drinks with a food order.

Cathy Boucher-Clark; a server and delivery driver at Tommy's. “About 30 percent of business is delivery and the rest is pick-up. Most of the booze sales come with the pick up orders, which is surprising,” said Cathy. “We started doing deliveries after we got the remote machine. For protection, I wear a mask when delivering and use plenty of hand sanitizer.

Major Rick Pollard is anxious to get the Salvation Army Thrift Store open again, but it's not going to happen right away. “It's been tough,” he said. “We've been closed since March 18 and we've still have rent to pay. We're still all right yet, but it's going to be a challenge if we don't get our store up and running soon. We've started putting markers on the floor and we've got to take out some of our racks because they are less than six feet apart.” Pollard explains that he's waiting on word from the Sally Anne Head Office and that they are now in phase one of reopening. “The Pt. Colborne store will be the first to open and in a couple of, another nine stores will open in phase two. I think we might be in phase two but I can't promise anything.”

Dollar Stretcher Daze was closed one day while preparing for the new regimen. “It [the Pandemic] has affected business but revenue isn't really down,” according to co-owner Linda Ann Hush. “Items like hand-sanitzer and masks are selling well, as are balloons. Drive-by balloon parties are a big thing now. And we're selling a lot of things like chalk, paint, canvas, stuff to keep the kids busy.” Staffing problems are an issue for Hush, as she's the only sales rep at the moment. “All my staff are over 60 so they're home, and I'm working 70 hours per week,” she said. Acton's safety supply garment store, House of Workwear, Socks and More, is currently open by appointment only. “My big problem is getting stock,” said owner Matt Galliford. “I've been considered essential all along. When I decided to close regular business hours towards the end of March, it was because of a mix of not being able to get any new or refill orders, or being able to get anything at all. It wasn't until last Friday that I was able to get work uniform pants in all sizes. Opening by appointment lets me pay some of the bills. I am making it work and will have to re-open sooner than later.” Galliford explains that some of his stock comes from suppliers overseas and he's getting delivery quotes from 3-6 weeks. “I'm in my fourth week of waiting for my safety boot order,” he said. “That's the way things have been going with this Pandemic. Most suppliers have had to close or lay off staff because of social-distancing reasons. Whatever the new normal may be, it will not be normal anymore."

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