As Winnipeggers start to heed advice about social distancing and staying home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, downtown businesses are encouraging shoppers to support them.
"The situation is changing daily for businesses; businesses were putting in measures to remove tables, put them farther apart — the social-distancing aspect — and also extra sanitization and cleaning," Downtown Winnipeg BIZ CEO Kate Fenske said Monday in a prepared statement.
"This week, as downtown workers are being told to work from home, it's even more of a challenge — are they going to stay open, should they close, how do they support their staff, their employees, through this process, as well?"
Olaf Pyttlik, co-owner of Across the Board Game Cafe in the Exchange, said he experienced a drop in business over the weekend, but is keeping his spirits high in face of the rapidly evolving situation.
"For myself, I’m moving with it. I think there’s a lot of businesses and people in the community out there that are going to be hit much harder than us," Pyttlik said Monday.
"I want to make sure that people are still going to be able to have a good time and connect with each other."
Across the Board is putting precautionary measures in place in accordance with public-health guidelines; employees are able to stay home from work, games used in store will be taken off the shelf for 24 hours between plays, and restaurant capacity will be cut to 50 per cent of normal levels to increase distance between patrons.
On top of those safety measures, Pyttlik said he's doing what he can to get games and community to people directly. Starting later this week, the games for sale in the cafe's online store will be available for next-day home delivery. Next week, the cafe will run online Dungeons and Dragons sessions for kids and families.
"People must just go insane staying at home," Pyttlik said. "We're seeing if there’s anything we can do to help people stay sane mentally and still have a good experience with each other."
Fenske said small downtown businesses operate within tighter margins and face more risks compared to big-box stores or other shopping districts.
"Many downtown stores and restaurants are independent or family owned, and a drop in business poses a real threat to their livelihood," Fenske said.
Jonathan Alward, director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, said the "domino effect" of unpredictable circumstances this year — railway blockades and pension increases, for example — have left independent businesses in need of extra support.
Winnipeg's Forks Market announced Monday that it would be reducing its hours and immediately closing The Commons beer and wine kiosk.
"Our door counts are down significantly, as are sales," Larissa Peck, a spokeswoman for the Forks North Portage Partnership said.
Peck said she's unsure of how individual vendors will respond to the changing hours, or how employees will be supported through the loss in revenue.
While Downtown BIZ recommends that residents adhere to public health guidelines around social distancing first and foremost, Fenske emphasized that there are ways to continue supporting local businesses from home: many retailers provide online or over-the-phone shopping; customers are encouraged to purchase gift cards to spend at a later date; and restaurants are encouraging customers to order takeout and tip as though they dined in.
Alward said CFIB has been working closely with the provincial government, and plans to announce support measures for independent businesses in the coming days.
— With files from Joyanne Pursaga
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.
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Updated on Monday, March 16, 2020 at 6:39 PM CDT: Updates main photo