A Chatham-Kent businesswoman is keeping her doors open as the province declared a third provincial emergency and stay-at-home order since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Julie Krieger, owner of Rachel’s Room, located on Fourth Street in Chatham, is not a COVID-19 denier or conspiracy theorist. She’s simply had enough of the government’s lockdown orders and thinks it’s time to prioritize the economy with COVID-19 seemingly not going anywhere anytime soon.
“It’s time. I can’t stay closed anymore. I think I have the right to earn my living and this is how I earn my living. Since COVID, I haven’t taken a paycheque,” Krieger said. “I understood why they were doing the first closures, but this time around I can’t do it.”
Rachel’s Room sees no more than eight customers at once on a normal business day when there are no special events or sales planned, Krieger said. She does not believe that shutting down a small local shop like hers will do anything to stop or spread the virus.
“We’re not a spreader at all. (During COVID-19) I usually do one person at a time or a family comes in together. And everyone is very respectful of the space because of COVID. I am just too little to be a spreader and I can easily control it.”
Krieger still wears a mask, as do her customers who come in, and she has hand sanitizer placed by the entrance.
Under Ontario’s stay-at-home order, residents are only allowed to leave their homes for essential trips such as work, outdoor exercise, child care and school, grocery shopping or for medical reasons. The order was enacted on April 8, and is set to last for a minimum of 28 days.
This time around, big box stores, such as Wal-Mart, were told to rope off their non-essential items, but Krieger said the damage has already been done to small businesses.
“It’s good they finally realized that they have to rope off non-essential items, but why didn’t they do that to begin with? All the money they’ve got, and small businesses got none of it. And I wouldn’t have (government) loans if I had just stayed open,” she said.
Stuart McFadden, director of Economic Development, is urging businesses to follow the guidance of the CK Public Health Unit and province.
“Right now, that guidance is effective. This is necessary to protect and save many people, so we do not support people opening up that shouldn’t be open. We don’t support anybody breaking the law, and I know it’s tough on everybody. I understand that. We hear it all the time,” he said.
Krieger said she understands that the government wants to look out for people’s health, but argues that the mental health of business owners is suffering as the bills pile up.
“The stress of not bringing home the paycheque is overwhelming. We’re not destitute by any means, but still it’s such a stressful thing to know you can’t support your family too,” she said. “And I am only one person; there are millions of stories like mine out there.”
Both senior levels of government provided support to businesses during the pandemic, but only so much can be kept and the rest does have to be paid back, she added.
Economic Development was also able to leverage provincial funds to help businesses move online, and the municipality provided businesses that slipped through the provincial and federal cracks with a $2,000 grant to help with COVID-19 expenses.
“Many businesses, they had to pivot, they figured out how to do curbside differently, they figured out how to go online. Don’t forget those lessons that we learned last time we shut down and we just need to get through these next four weeks,” McFadden said.
He added Economic Development does not know how many local businesses have closed since the onset of the pandemic started because of the lockdowns. The municipality is looking at ways to support local businesses again, but there is nothing definitively on the table yet.
“I understand the stress, and people have to manage the business and everything they have are in these businesses. I get the frustration, but at the same time the orders come down from the province and we’re saying that’s the best thing to do for everyone and it’s going to help us get this behind us quicker,” McFadden said.
As of Friday, no by-law enforcement officers had come in to check on the business and they remained open.
“I want to pay the bills, I want to keep the door afloat. And I have to look after my family too. So I just decided to stay open and see what happens,” said Krieger.
She plans to wait things out and see what happens. She hopes other businesses will stand with her and open during the lockdown.
“They can’t possibly fine us all,” she said.