Just a few short weeks ago it literally was business usual for everyone.
But as the scope of the COVID-19 crisis began to unveil itself all businesses, both big and small, were immediately faced with making some very tough decisions.
“When we initially heard everything what was happening with COVID-19 we decided to adjust to the situation and maintain a very safe environment,” says Christine Grant, co-owner of Modo Yoga Cambridge, noting reducing class sizes at their Ainslie Street North studio and introducing even stricter cleaning protocols were the first steps. “But as the situation developed and we realized we had to close our doors it was incredibly emotional. You almost feel like you’re failing the community when you say, ‘we have to close our doors’.”
Mike Hruden, general manager and co-founder of Four Fathers Brewing Company said the moment the province first announced the closure of non-essential services it resulted in near panic.
“We had a very crazy day in retail because people thought everything was closing,” he says, adding that concern subsided once a revised short list of closures was announced.
But like all business owners they quickly realized they would have to switch gears to operate in this unprecedented economic reality.
“You can try to be a trendsetter but you don’t know what’s right or wrong, or what you can or can’t do, so we really paid attention to what the government has been posting,” says Mike, referring to the steps his business has taken.
Sadly, he says Four Fathers Brewing had to layoff its kitchen and taproom staff but continues to offer free local delivery and curbside pickup at its Guelph Avenue location. Takeout, delivery and curbside pickup are steps many local restaurants and eateries have now undertaken as the crisis continues.
“The first thing which has taken off and seems to be appreciated by the local community is free local delivery,” says Mike, noting it began as a March promotion but has been extended.
Although most of Four Fathers’ orders are coming from Cambridge, he’s also seen orders come in from Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph. He says they are looking at extending the service to Fergus and Elora.
“It’s just something that allows people to stay inside and when we deliver, we put the box at the door and stand back and greet them,” says Mike, adding similar safety protocols are in place with their curbside pickup which has jumped to at least 70 orders last week alone compared to the five or six they saw a month.
“There’s a lot of change happening right now, so you have to take it day by day,” he says.
Christine and her business partner, Emily Drouillard, agree and say thinking outside the box and being open to any ideas to assist customers is key.
“So many businesses have already made that shift,” says Christine, referring to online services now being offered by numerous local businesses, including food and supply pickups and fitness classes. “Don’t think about ‘what I’m not able to do in this situation’, but ‘what can I still do?’.”
She says business owners must realize that offering the same service as they did before is nearly impossible.
“You just have to do the best you can right now. You can sit and sulk, or you can get up and figure out how to move forward,” says Christine.
In their case they were fortunate the Modo Yoga community, which includes more than 70 studios worldwide, was able in just a few days time launch an online network offering numerous classes from around the world.
“It was pretty amazing,” says Emily, who says the Modo Yoga community initially had plans to launch this network in the fall but quickly decided to step up the process when the pandemic struck. “Four days going into this there were no videos but the whole community rallied together to send off videos and make content available, so now there’s hundreds of videos and it’s updated daily.”
As well, Modo Yoga Cambridge offers two live classes daily on its Instagram account, which are saved for future viewing to ensure followers can practice with their favourite instructors on their own schedules.
“It’s been a big learning curve for us,” admits Christine, explaining instructors themselves are learning to adjust conducting virtual classes. “But the response has been great and the support from the community has been wonderful.”
Emily agrees and says community support is vital to getting through this crisis.
“What we’re seeing is how responsive our community has been to this shift,” she says, adding very few businesses were prepared for something like this. “Nobody really has a choice in the matter.”
But businesses themselves are also doing their part to support the community, including adapting their services to help the healthcare industry.
At Four Fathers, Mike says they’ve created a batch of beer which is being sold over the next few months to benefit the Cambridge Memorial Hospital in its fight against COVID-19. He’s hoping to raise at least $4,000 through this fundraiser towards the purchase of needed medical supplies, including masks.
“We’ll give them a donation and they can buy whatever it is they want from their donation list,” he says.
For local realtor Scott Bennett, who works at the ReMax Real Estate Centre on Hespeler Road, giving back to the community has resulted in a growing movement. Since late January, when COVID-19 was only a threat to Canada, he began a campaign of creating and delivering emergency hygiene packs to those in need, including seniors and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
To date, and with the support of the Cambridge Rotary Club, ReMax and volunteers, his campaign has resulted in the delivery of at least 400 kits each containing hand sanitizer, antibacterial hand soap, non-latex gloves and disinfectant wipes.
“There’s been such a big response from the community,” says Scott, who receives messages on Facebook regarding residents who need kits.
“I’ve been doing quite a bit of running around. A lot of the products are hard to find now,” he says. “I’ve had some store managers who call me when they get in a new shipment.”
The kits are packed at Fiddlesticks Community Centre where Scott is now including homemade disinfectant wipes created by liquid Lysol soaked in cloth purchased online in bulk.
“We drop off the kits on the porch and there’s no contact. I’m really surprised by the demand and the need,” says Scott, adding his real estate work hasn’t slowed down. “I’ve actually been pretty busy with that lately. I thought a pandemic would slow things down.”
He says conducting even more virtual tours has become the norm and that great care and the necessary precautions are being taken when showing clients’ a home.
“It’s not the ideal situation but a lot people have to move because they’re closing on other houses,” says Scott.
It’s expected our current situation may not change for several months, but in the meantime, staying connected and healthy is important.
“We feel now more than ever it’s important people keep moving their bodies and connecting with friends,” says Emily.
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