COVID-19 highlights importance of small business — and its challenges

Oct 15, 2021 | Biz/Tech

Small businesses have been struggling to survive since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and, now more than ever, their future depends on consumers shopping locally.

David Hessels, a manager for Businesses Improvement Area For Toronto, knows the city has numerous programs to support small retail businesses as they continue to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Small businesses are hoping local communities and shoppers will support them and help to grow their businesses.

“Current programs are being expanded and others are being created so that small businesses can draw upon resources to bolster their resilience,” Hessels said.

But small business owners and workers typically rely on their loyal customers, tight-knit communities and connections.

According to a 2020 Statistics Canada report, more than one-quarter of small businesses in Canada indicated revenues were down about 30 per cent compared to 2019. Businesses with one to four employees saw a 32.7 per cent plunge while businesses with 20 to 99 employees reported a 25.2 per cent drop.

After a few weeks into Ontario’s second lockdown beginning in November 2020, businesses slowly changed over to online sales, curbside pickup and delivery, reducing and laying off staff, and relying on rent relief from the federal government.

Still, Statistics Canada reported one-quarter of businesses gave employees some sort of support that was not given before the pandemic.

The family-like community of small businesses, usually saw those who lost their jobs hired back when lockdowns lifted -as long as the business itself had survived.

A big winner while small businesses suffered was Amazon and other delivery services.

Sarah Lourdes worked at an Amazon warehouse in the GTA during the first lockdown in 2020, saying orders significantly increased in April and May of 2020.

“On a normal day it’s pretty busy, but we were hit so hard once people could only order online,” she said. “Within one day we had to move a lot quicker than normal so orders could be shipped. It was a busy time.”

Small business owners are trying to recoup some of their lost revenue from the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns. They are encouraged to build an email list, blog and use social media, and seek the help of public relations and communication specialists.

Twyla Willis, who runs a small black-owned catering business selling seafood boils, said it was the pandemic that actually caused her to start her own business.

“I was looking for ways to make money since I was laid off from my job,” Willis said.

“People always told me I should sell my food, but it was never my passion,” she said. “After bringing my cooking to different events, people would ask if I sell my platters and for how much, that’s when it hit me that people would actually buy it.”

And Willis will be happier, like all small business owners, as things return to normal for customers and can support local retailers.