Weeks into reopening, many Manitoba businesses struggling to recover

By | July 29, 2020

More than four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Manitoba businesses are struggling to recoup their losses and woo customers still nervous about returning to their normal shopping habits.

Constance Menzies, the owner of the St. Boniface chocolate shop Chocolatier Constance Popp, says her business is now fully open, but without foot traffic and orders from festivals and events, it hasn’t been easy.

She’s determined to push on, though.

“We’re not giving up. We’re here to stay for the long haul,” she said. 

“I think that there is a place for good chocolate in the marketplace in Winnipeg, and in Canada. So there’s no desire to slow down.”

In April, the shop started a GoFundMe page to help stay open. As of Wednesday afternoon, the campaign had raised $18,346 of its $60,000 target, with 275 donors.

The shop created a GoFundMe campaign to stay afloat during the pandemic when non-essential businesses were forced to close. (Walther Bernal/CBC )

Menzies said she thinks the campaign was like a “call to action” for her shop’s longtime supporters. While some people have donated, she said others have shown support by coming into the shop to buy chocolate and other items.

“I think there’s such a strong ‘shop local’ thrust in Winnipeg, in all places across Canada, and so people are coming and trying to support us that way.”

Winnipeg restaurateur Danny Gonen used to own three Tony Roma’s locations in Winnipeg, but because of the pandemic, he’s now down to two. He was forced to close down his Nairn Avenue location in May because he couldn’t make the rent payments. 

Gonen estimates that his restaurants lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue because of the pandemic, especially when they had to close their dining rooms and patios entirely for six weeks this spring due to public health orders. 

Danny Gonen, who owns two Winnipeg Tony Roma’s locations, says he doesn’t think he’ll ever recover the revenue he lost but is hopeful for the future. (Walther Bernal/CBC )

Restaurants were allowed as of June to open at full capacity, but still have to keep tables spaced two metres apart, along with other restrictions.

Even so, “you’re never going to make up what you lost. You just hope for a bright future,” Gonen said.

“But we’re trying to recoup. We lost a lot of money in those three months and we’re trying to recover.”

For now, he’s just trying to take it day by day. 

“I’m not a person who likes to worry about things. Worrying is not going to help. So I’m just reacting to the situation and it’s very fluid right now.”

Businesses see fraction of normal revenue 

A new report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says thousands of small and medium-sized businesses in Manitoba are at risk of closing for good due to the pandemic. 

While close to two-thirds of Manitoba businesses are now fully reopened, the report says, only a third of CFIB members in the province are making normal sales for this time of year. 

The Conference Board of Canada says consumer confidence — which measures consumers’ levels of optimism regarding current economic conditions — rose 14 points between May and June for Manitoba and Saskatchewan — from 48 points to 62.

But that’s still much lower than it was before the pandemic. In February, the consumer confidence index for the region was 94. 

CFIB members say customers just aren’t shopping the way they did before the pandemic, according to Jonathan Alward, the business federation’s director for the Prairie region.

“I think the big reason for this is a lack of consumer confidence. People don’t feel comfortable going out and shopping the way they might have done so before March,” he said. 

“That’s a huge problem, and when you layer on the fact that many of these types of businesses still have physical distancing or occupancy limit restrictions in place, again for good reason, that’s why you start to see these sales really, really lag.”

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