'We can’t hang on': rally to urge province to move Windsor-Essex to Stage 2
WINDSOR, ONT. -- Local business owners are still reeling from the news that Windsor-Essex will be stuck in Stage 1 of the province’s reopening plan and now, pressure is mounting in the small business community to reopen Windsor.
“Every day that goes by here is a nail in the coffin of businesses in my community and that cannot happen,” says Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, reacting with frustration to the news that Windsor-Essex would remain the only region of 34 across the province stuck in Stage 1.
It’s a fact that Nancy George and Sylvia Sleiman, the co-owners of Windsor Beauty Supply, are seeing first-hand.
They say 85 per cent of their clients are salon operators who have been shut down for more than three months.
“Every day that goes by, we’re just going to see more and more businesses close, unfortunately,” says George. “We’re putting our foot down.”
“All we’re asking for is to be able to work, to slowly go back into a normal life and to bring our community back up,” Sleiman says.
And that’s the message they’re bringing to the doorsteps of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit during a rally planned for 10 a.m. Wednesday. They want to send a loud message from the small business community, including restaurants, salons and other businesses which are forced to remain closed: Open Ontario by July 1.
“The collateral damage from this virus, I think is going to be far more potent than the virus itself,” says Kim Spirou, a small business owner and one of the organizers of the rally.
Spirou owns a Salon and a PR firm and says her work has all but dried up.
She expresses frustration that people in the southern edges of the county, which is experiencing the bulk of recent COVID-19 cases, can take a 10 minute drive to Wheatley for a haircut and salon services.
Meantime, Windsor businesses, which have been compliant and closed for 100 days are forced to wait.
Her message to decision makers is simple: stand for small business and let them reopen safely, or they’ll do it anyway.
“We are willing to risk fines, etc. Because we need to open,” Spirou says. “We cannot do it anymore. We can’t hang on.”
It’s an idea — that has Mayor Dilkens considering leniency.
“If we don’t see any traction, it would be my recommendation to council that we don’t take any enforcement,” Dilkens said Monday. “I don’t want to get there, I’m not encouraging that, but we may end up getting to a situation where we don’t want to lose businesses. We don’t want people to go bankrupt.”
The Chamber of Commerce is suggesting a different idea — selective re-opening of Windsor — home to 75 per cent of the region’s small businesses — but not Leamington or Kingsville.
The chamber is also looking more provincial aid for businesses still unable to open in Windsor-Essex.
“If we can’t all reopen at the same time, can we reopen selectively. I think the answer is yes,” says Rakesh Naidu, the Chamber’s president, who indicates the position is being endorsed by many of its members. “Let’s take those measures, it may not be easy, we may have to put in place some processes and templates to make this happen, but I think it’s worth that effort.”
Health unit board chair Gary McNamara — says he’s on board to convince the province that the region has control of COVID-19 — but says negativity towards the local Health Unit is misdirected.
“I agree Stage 2, extremely disappointed that it didn’t happen,” McNamara said during Tuesday’s media briefing. “But it’s not because of Dr. Ahmed (the chief medical officer of health) that we didn’t open up.”
Nancy George says she will be at the rally handing out masks and sanitizer to anyone involved.