Downtown businesses suffering amid community outbreak

London business owners gather at Toboggan Brewing on Richmond Street in London, September 23, 2020. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

A group of London’s small businesses are imploring the local community for support after a recent COVID-19 case report shined a negative spotlight on the city’s core and area businesses.

Several business owners and operators gathered at Toboggan Brewing Co. on Richmond Street on Wednesday in an effort to dispel concerns Londoners may have about bringing their patronage to their establishments.

Many of the businesses in London’s core began taking a hit just over a week ago after five Western University students, who had spent time at unidentified downtown bars and restaurants, contracted COVID-19. A community outbreak was declared by the local health unit shortly after.

The report has led to the perception that the downtown area is a COVID-19 hotbed, according to the business owners.

Pamela Parker-Lansdowne, the owner of the Tasting Room, said her profits were cut in half following the report from the health unit.

“I went outside my restaurant on Saturday night and looked up and down Richmond Street. There was not a soul. No cars. No people,” she said. “I hadn’t seen it like that in a long time.”

Scott Crawford, an owner of The Bungalow restaurant, said the majority of businesses have acted responsibly in alignment with government mandates, including masking, cleaning, social distancing, and crowd control. However, that hasn’t changed recent public perception.

“We saw a drop in sales,” he said. “It’s been really difficult. Restaurants, historically, make very little profit. The margins are very thin and that’s at 100 per cent capacity. So operating under these conditions is just horrible. Thankfully we have subsidies but subsidies are no replacement for jobs. Jobs are supposed to subsidize government and when things are the other way around, you know you’re in trouble.”

Mike Smith, owner of Joe Cools and Toboggan Brewing. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

Mike Smith, owner of Joe Kool’s and Toboggan Brewing Co. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

Mike Smith, the owner of Joe Kool’s and Toboggan Brewing, said the reported cases of the virus have exacerbated the obstacles businesses are facing as a result of the pandemic. He said many businesses are suffering due to the growing instability.

“We haven’t had a big outbreak,” he said. “There were some [incidents] that led everybody to believe people were dying in the streets and they’re not. We haven’t had one incident at any of our restaurants.”

Smith said these businesses are at great risk without strong support from the community in the months to come.

“I think people don’t realize how fragile small businesses are and people need support,” he said. “Your rent is the same, your tax is the same, your operating costs are the same, but the fact is you have fewer sales, so it doesn’t go as far. It’s the volume of business that’s the biggest factor.”

Whether you order online from a local business or if you feel comfortable going in person, Smith said these small businesses need all the patronage they can get during these tough times.

He added that many restaurants in the downtown core are concerned about how they will cope once cooler weather forces an end to the patio season.

“If that disappears, we want people to know we have taken the precautions inside… feel comfortable that we are taking care,” he said.

The Middlesex London Health Unit reported 12 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic up to 824.

Toboggan Brewing in London. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

Toboggan Brewing Co. in London. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)