What’s open? What’s closed? COVID hammers Pontiac businesses

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Allyson Beauregard

Premier Francois Legault’s announcement on March 23 put the province on hold with all “non-essential” businesses closed until at least May 4. In addition, the Outaouais’ borders were closed to non-essential travel on April 1 (see page 2), and all businesses in Quebec will be closed on Sundays. These shut-downs impact most Pontiac businesses, leaving them to respond on their own. Businesses ask their customers to avoid cash and physical contact and use take-outs or deliveries. Many have reduced their hours and staff.
Newspapers and some other media were designated “essential” for the communication of information and news.
With non-essential travel banned, the Quyon Ferry has suspended service until April 13. Most gas stations remain open, with a reduced workforce. Many have glass or plastic shields at the cash registers to protect customers and employees.
Health services
The hospital and CLSCs are accepting patients, but not visitors. Local dentists are accepting emergencies only, as are other clinics and health-related services. Most doctors remain at work, replacing visits with the telephone. Doctors can be reached by phoning their offices as per usual.
Farm and auto
Farm supplies are an essential business, especially in the Pontiac. Most retailers offer deliveries and, in Shawville, an innovative drive-through window. Auto repair is another essential in our region. Most services and garages remain open by appointment and some offer free pick-up and drop-offs of vehicles. A service in Thorne is likewise innovating, offering a mobile repair service so the autos remain where they are. However, morning coffee get-togethers have been suspended.
Pharmacies
Pharmacies remain open. All have precautionary measures in place (distancing measures, sanitizers, etc), and they are encouraging use of their delivery
services.
Salons and spas
Salons and spas, less essential, are closed, leaving many entrepreneurs without an income. “I enjoy working, so it hurts just as much emotionally as it does financially,” said Holly Lalonde, a Shawville salon-and-spa owner. Chantal Gravelle closed her Bryson shop March 17, given her nearly-due second child. “It’s always a worry being self-employed,” she told the Journal. “Savings are for times like this, but for entrepreneurs just starting out, that can be tough.”
Groceries and hardware
Grocery stores are open and most offer home delivery. “I put marks on the floor to maintain social distance and we allow customers to call in their orders and
pick them up,” said Derek Bertrand, owner of a depanneur and bar on L’Isle-aux-Allumettes. He emphasized the “massive” hit his business has taken with the bar’s closure. “I had to lay off everybody except one helper. Yesterday I worked 14 hours. I fear for the future of my business. I recently renovated my bar, which cost $100,000, plus my bar licensing was just paid, etc. I’m taking it one day at a time,” Bertrand added.
Supermarkets in Mansfield, Fort Coulonge, and Shawville have expanded their delivery services, some with the help of municipalities and volunteers. Several community organizations, including the Lions, have stepped in to offer grocery delivery to seniors and others at risk.
Shawville has a daily seniors-only shopping hour, 8 to 9 am.
Hardware stores are also considered essential, but under strain as business
volume sinks, and just as spring begins. One owner, Connie Lasalle, detailed steps from limiting hours, to limiting customers inside, providing gloves, one person per family – and encouraging deliveries. “We have a yard full of spring goods and no market. We’re concerned, but know we are all in the same boat,” said Lasalle.
Other retailers – clothing, gifts, etc – are closed except for those providing “essential supplies” like Canadian Tire and Giant Tiger in Shawville.
Many Pontiac retailers are advertising their hours and service innovations on pages 10, 11, 20 and 21.
And then there’s tourism …
Esprit Rafting’s Jim Coffey, says the crisis is “a big deal” for tourism and
disproportionately affects regions that rely on it like the Pontiac. Esprit’s season has been postponed to mid-May, with June 15 as a fall-back date. If this date can’t be met, Coffey said this whole season may be a write-off. “We have huge start-up costs, like insurance that costs the same whether we run for six months or three. The best way to survive might be to close for the season. This is our biggest challenge ever.”
Coffey says he’s optimistic because the Pontiac already has a high tolerance for adversity, uncertainty and challenges. “I hope those with decision-making power offer the support needed to keep us on life-support and then give us a leg-up when we need it,” he told the Journal.
Feds pass compensation, first phase
On March 25, the federal government passed the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit bill, which includes measures to help individuals and businesses during the crisis. The measures include increased flexibility and removal of the one-week waiting period for EI; up to $500 a week for 15 weeks for those who aren’t eligible for EI (gig, contract, self-employed); up to $300 more per child through the Canada Child Tax Benefit, to be paid in May; boosting the GST tax credit by an average of $400 for single people and $600 for couples through a one-time payment in May; and offering a 75% subsidy to qualifying small and medium businesses for employee wages, among other things.
“This is the first phase. We’re observing the response to the compensation package and assessing what more needs to be done,” said Pontiac MP Will Amos.
More details, including where and how to apply for benefits, are to be announced the week of April 6.