Providing clarity for non-essential businesses

Downtown storefronts in Hensall (Bob Montgomery photo)

Support is available both locally and provincially for business owners who have questions about the recent order to close non-essential businesses in Ontario.

The Government of Ontario has set up a toll-free telephone number to answer concerns that business owners may have about the latest instructions by the province.

Earlier in the week, Premier Doug Ford ordered all at-risk businesses in Ontario to close at the end of day Tuesday for at least two weeks to help fight the spread of COVID-19. Currently, the provincial government lists 74 categories of businesses that are deemed essential.

Any businesses who have questions are encouraged to call the newly establish Stop The Spread Information Line at 1-888-444-3659. Business owners can also call the number to get more information on how emergency measures can impact business operations.

Locally, the Chatham-Kent Economic Development Department said businesses should first get in touch with the provincial government, either through the toll-free number or online, if they want more information about what businesses are being deemed essential.

“The first thing we want businesses to think about is the health of people,” said Andrew Tompsett, economic development marketing and communications officer. “We need everyone to be on the same page and think about the health and safety of their staff… The message from the province is to use common sense and we agree with that approach.”

Tompsett said there are a number of resources for Chatham-Kent business owners who may feel uncertain right now or unsure of their next steps.

“Chatham-Kent Economic Development and the Small Business Centre are here and ready to help in any way we can,” he said. “Our economic development officers are reaching out to businesses across Chatham-Kent. If a business has not heard from us yet and is looking for some help, even just someone to discuss ideas with, we urge them to reach out to us.”

For anyone impacted by a business closure, Tompsett recommended a number of steps to take over the next few days to adjust to the change.

“Make sure you are connecting with those who are important to your business. This includes your bank, insurance provider, legal advisor or anyone else who plays a role in your business,” he explained.

Tompsett also suggested business owners connect with local chambers and business improvement associations for additional advice and insight. The economic development team has also created a website specifically for COVID-19 related business updates and resources, which Tompsett encourages people to follow to stay up-to-date.

The provincial government has also recommended that all non-essential businesses find ways to let their employees work from home if possible. Tompsett said this is a perfect time for small businesses to look at their options for online tools and how to improve their digital footprint.

“This is a time to remind businesses that we are encouraging [them] to explore opportunities to continue operations through work-from-home and innovative business models,” said Tomsett.