Five local businesses navigate the lockdown

Emma Johnston-Wheeler

Alexi Thibodeau and Josh Colleran, owners of Henrietta Lane Café and Drinkery.

While many small businesses in Toronto are approaching the light at the end of a long, dark Covid-19 tunnel, some have quietly closed their doors for good. Still more are hanging on by tooth and nail, none surviving without government aid.

Ontario’s January 14 stay-at-home order for all regions has since been extended twice in Toronto, while other regions return to the province’s color coded Covid response framework. The city’s stay-at-home order is tentatively set to end on March 8.

 Until then, especially hair salons and gyms continue to struggle, while other businesses depend on curbside service. As reported by CityNews, the Beauty United business coalition estimates that a fifth of Ontario’s 3,500 salons and spas will not survive the lockdowns.

Lift is a hair and nail salon a short walk from St. Lawrence Market South. Co-owner Heidi Hurtarte, who opened the salon in 2003, says she is ready to start serving her customers safely.

Though Lift is only allowed to sell curbside products such as at-home colour kits, Hurtate is grateful for the support of long standing customers. “We had no idea that we were going to build such a solid friendship with our guests.”

Regarding safety measures, she calls her team “cleaning machines.” “If you forget your mask, we have masks. We also have shields, and we disinfect after each client,” said Hurtate.

The Longboard Haven skate shop on Queen Street East has closed indoor service since the first lockdown, said co-founder Michael McGown, “because everybody’s health was more important than making money.” McGown and partner Rob Sydia have been offering goods online and are grateful for loyal customers.

Kelsey Ramage is an internationally known bartender who in September 2019 launched Supernova Ballroom, a low-waste cocktail bar near Bay Street and Adelaide. After Toronto restaurants closed the following March, Ramage saw her bank accounts draining by mid May. She took a government loan to pay off immediate debts, but Supernova Ballroom closed for good in July. While she recovers financially, Ramage hopes to create an alternative version of Supernova in the post-pandemic future.

Alexi Thibodeau is the owner of Henrietta Lane, a café and commissary on King Street East. This month Thibodeau hopes to sell take-home bottles of cocktails using homemade ingredients, while she waits for patio season.

“My hope is to launch something that’s really clear, thought out and unique,” she said. “If I hadn’t been open for several years and had a bit of cushion when this all started, we probably would have been pretty screwed. So my heart goes out to a lot of businesses that are opening this year.”

Todd Morgan, owner of Maple Leaf Tavern on Gerrard Street East, said that while inhouse dining has been prohibited, his team has been plugging away with holiday meal kits and take-home menu items. “But we’re still down 95% in sales.”

The business is marketing directly via email, letting customers know the tavern is still open and serving. “We’re just waiting to get out of the depths of winter,” said Morgan. “Here’s hoping for a warmer March and April.”

Robyn Posner is the St. Lawrence Market BIA’s director of marketing, events and member services. During the present lockdown, Posner says the BIA is keeping members informed of support options, including wage and rent subsidies. Posner promotes the businesses that remain open.

When Toronto returns to the province’s red zone category, small businesses will be able to re-open for in-store shopping, with maximum customer capacity reduced to 25%.

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