WINDSOR, ONT. -- Small business owners are increasingly considering calling it quits according to a new survey of Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) members because of pandemic hardships – and businesses in Windsor-Essex may have it harder than most.

On Thursday, the CFIB released results of its survey conducted from Jan. 12 – 16 which showed one in six, or approximately 181,000 Canadian small businesses are at risk of closure.

“We haven’t yet hit the bottom and that’s the most concerning part,” said Rakesh Naidu, the President and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Naidu says the region’s position as a border city has resulted in even greater challenges for local businesses – cut off from its American customer base with the months-long closure of the border to non-essential travel.

“For us as a region, it’s a bigger challenge and that number of one in six is a number that may be reflected here,” said Naidu.

For businesses like Windsor’s Little Foot Foods, the challenges of the pandemic have felt like a white-knuckle amusement park ride.

“It’s been a rollercoaster I guess,” said Rachael Myers, co-owner of the local pierogi specialty producer. “We’ve lost a few employees and it has changed the way we produce; it’s changed what we produce.”

Myers hasn’t had any thoughts of closing up shop due to the pandemic and, in fact, says the ‘buy local’ movement has helped to buoy her business during the past year.

“Especially at the Downtown Farmers’ Market this summer; we had our best season at the market by far in the six seasons we’ve been there,” said Myers.

While Myers is confident of riding out the current pandemic challenges, she sympathizes with many of her fellow small business owners struggling right now. Myers says a couple of years ago, it may have been a different situation for her own business.

“Absolutely, just the fact that we have an established customer base, and we have places that we wholesale to so, you can buy our product from other stores and companies, has made a world of difference,” said Myers.

Naidu points to several measures as potential salves to the burn of the pandemic.

Tax exemptions for small and medium-sized businesses, insurance assistance and an improvement to rent relief programs are all supports Naidu feels are necessary to help prevent massive job losses.

In a recent meeting with Prabmeet Sarkaria, Ontario’s Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, Naidu asked for rent relief programs to cover even more than the increased 90 per cent subsidy.

“We asked for that number to be increased to 100 per cent because there’s no way that even 10 per cent of rent they can pay when there’s no revenue,” said Naidu.

CFIB reports 58,000 businesses became inactive in 2020 and a further 2.4-million jobs could be at risk – making up 20 per cent of private-sector jobs.​