WINDSOR, ONT. -- A virtual roundtable bringing together local businesses, associations and an Ontario junior minister aims to flag to the Ford government the challenges of doing business in Windsor-Essex through a pandemic.

On Thursday, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens hosted the afternoon session with Ontario’s Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, Prabmeet Sarkaria, taking part to lend an ear and field questions.

"We know that hope is on the horizon but, we have to help the small businesses get through this very difficult 90-day period that we’re going to go through," said Dilkens.

The session was closed to reporters as the minister wanted a "no holds barred" discussion, according to a spokesperson with the mayor’s office.

Both the mayor and Rakesh Naidu, the president and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce (WERCoC) agree – Windsor’s unique position as a border city has created greater hardships for local businesses.

Dilkens says the province has now heard with the border closed, regardless of other stages of loosening restrictions, businesses in the region have been cut off to their American customer base for much of the year.

With Windsor-Essex the last region to enter into Stage 2 of Ontario’s early re-opening framework, Dilkens says businesses in the region have had less time and less access to their customers to prepare for a COVID-19 second wave lockdown.

Naidu feels the hardships experienced by businesses in the region are so stark compared to elsewhere in Ontario, the province should adjust its direct-to-tenant rent relief support accordingly.

"Because we’re one of the hardest hit regions, our businesses should be eligible to tap up to 90 per cent versus up to 65 per cent that is available for businesses in other communities," said Naidu.

The WERCoC head adds a 2020 tax exemption directed at the hard-hit hospitality sector would also serve as an important form of relief.

Dilkens is feeling optimistic following the roundtable discussion.

While he may not necessarily expect a new outlay of cash from Queen’s Park, the mayor expects the province to look at better advertising current programs and making them easier to access.

"They need to go back and look at and fine tune probably some of the rules and restrictions and the promotion of the programs that they’re offering to make sure that the money is getting into the hands of people and the businesses who need it most," said Dilkens.

Business owners across the region have expressed their concerns about the current public health measures and their impact on the bottom line.

The Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association (DWBIA) has even launched a petition calling on the province to adjust the restrictions it sees as unfairly favouring big box stores.

"We’re nervous and we’re just trying to do our best," said Amor Hernandez, co-owner of Café Amor and Art on Ottawa Street, adding she hopes government programs will better help small businesses. "I know big corporations, they will be open as well. They’re already established."

Dilkens says the "elephant in the room" was addressed during the discussion but says the restrictions are set by the province’s public health table and is hopeful of a fine-tuned approach in the weeks ahead.

"No matter what the response is, it’s going to somehow be imperfect for a group of business owners, it’s never going to hit the mark with 100 per cent precision," said Dilkens.

Naidu says whatever changes or adjustments the province is going to make to support small businesses, he feels it is crucial they’re made quickly.

"These changes really will impact how businesses will be able to really monetize the next few days," said Naidu. "Which is clearly the busiest time of the year."