“Oh lord, COVID-19, where to begin,” Jackie Dietrich, Village Square Coffee House.
A faint pulse has been found in the village after Ontario’s second COVID-19 lockdown was lifted, and by many accounts, Port Stanley businesses are now ambulatory, even as medical authorities predict a third wave is imminent.
Barb Booth has doubled down on natural healing remedies to help the village health food store get a foothold in the post-lockdown economy.
“I am a firm believer in the principle of reaping and sowing,” said Booth, proprietor at The Storehouse and Barb’s Brickle, 211 Main Street. “I believe that if you look after others, it will be returned to you.”
Booth remained open throughout both lockdowns, operating within Ontario COVID-19 guidelines and sharing knowledge about boosting the immune system. In fact, she said business was strong throughout.
“Being intentional about my own health afforded me the opportunity to then look after the people that came to me for natural help,” she added. “In turn, their support looked after my business needs, even during a pandemic.”
Brent Noels, proprietor at Pierside Pub, 158 William Street, was closed this winter for the first time since he bought the establishment four years ago. “We didn’t feel it was worth it to stay open,” particularly with all the Provincial restrictions. “We’re definitely digging into our pockets in order to keep the business going,” added Noels.
Central Elgin rejected his request for a municipal tax break, however, he did get some relief through a Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) interest-free loan. Thankfully, his wife’s massage therapy job paid some bills.
“We were trying to get a grant, but it’s complicated,” added Noels. “I’ve been daddy daycare for the last five months. We’re back to square one now, starting all over again.” Noels said another lockdown would force him to seriously consider selling the business.
Pierside’s reopening on the weekend of March 6, 2021 attracted a full house. “Our customers are excited for us to be open,” he said. “The feedback has been wonderful.”
His clients’ loyalty is perhaps best illustrated by an anonymous letter Noels received with five $100 bills slipped inside. When he found out who the donor was, the money was returned, “but that was pretty nice.” Noels hopes to host a St Patrick’s Day celebration this weekend.
Similarly, Port Stanley Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 410, has been closed since December 24, 2020. Legion President Rich McClenaghan and his wife Janice tried to fuel members’ morale during the lockdown with a Facebook campaign. They posted photos, updates and other notes, trying to instill hope and providing followers with something to look forward to.
“We have a lot of regulars who really missed the comradery of the Legion,” said Rich. The Legion re-opened March 1, 2021. “We had to completely shut down for more than two months. The government gave us a grant which really helps, (but) it was tough on many people who get together regularly at the Legion. No work for the bartenders, kitchen staff or custodians. No bands, karaoke, cards, sports.”
Janice added: “The members we have spoken to, are so happy to be back. They missed getting out and seeing people a great deal.
“We are a small village, but the Legion is a big part of it,” she added. “We want everybody happy, but safe. Hopefully, the vaccines will roll out soon. People will have to continue to wear masks and social distance.”
Like the others, Jackie Dietrich, proprietor at Village Square Coffee House, 284 Bridge Street, hope she’s seen the last of COVID-19 lockdowns.
“It’s been a rough year, not just for me but everyone,” said Dietrich. “I didn’t have to actually close, but I did – both times – for the good of the community. Sales slump so bad some times, it’s easier to just lock the doors, if you know what I mean.
“To be honest, as a business owner, the hardest part was telling my staff my decision and knowing that this would not just impact my family, but more importantly, their families,” she added. “We have managed as best we can and look forward to warm weather when we can all be outside again.”
Lauren Elfman’s Hair on the Harbour, 235 Colborne Street, was also hit hard. “We were forced to shut down for four months, operate for six months and then shut down again for two months,” said Elfman. “The stress and trauma that it created on me and my staff was intense.
“We had just moved into our new location and business was booming,” she added. “We had all kinds of ideas and events we wanted to implement. We were expanding. Then we were shut down.
“I was angry and uncertain of what the future of business would look like because people were cutting their own hair out of desperation, which I totally understood, but I felt like I couldn’t contribute and that hurt.” Elfman continued. “Once we were able to reopen however, the support of the community was incredibly overwhelming. I had clients knocking on my house door, wanting to book appointments. If anything, we are stronger because of it.”
For other North Shore Beacon coverage of the pandemic: