Still in this together

Usually at this time of year, Haliburton County’s small businesses are winding down from a busy – and profitable – summer and preparing for the leaner months ahead.

This year, as we all know, is different.

As County director of tourism, Amanda Virtanen, noted at a recent council meeting, we’ve all heard the anecdotal accounts that some businesses had their best summer ever and others were on the verge of having to close permanently.

We’ve heard grocery stores have done well, as have hardware outlets and garden centres. Some tourism outlets say they have benefitted from the mass exodus from the city. But some retailers and restaurants have clearly struggled.

On the plus side, from an economic perspective, we hope the cottagers do continue to come late into the fall and over the winter.

From a public health perspective, we’re a little bit leerier. We only ask that everyone, local or visitor, continue to follow health unit guidelines.

It’s only just recently that we have received some statistics to go along with those anecdotal accounts. Both the Haliburton County Chamber of Commerce and Virtanen’s department of tourism did some September surveys.

The chamber received 2.5 times the response rate of any other survey it’s done. The tourism department had a 20 per cent response rate.

The chamber had half of its respondents say they’d had to lay people off permanently or temporarily. That is a big hit. Business confidence is also, naturally, shaky. But confidence here is better than in cities such as Toronto, where businesses are starting to close their doors. In Haliburton County, nearly half the survey respondents believed in their ability to thrive, versus 39 per cent who said no. Thirteen per cent were unsure. That is good to hear.

The tourism survey also held some positive numbers. More said visits to their business was up this summer, than down. However, more said revenue was down this summer over last. More than 40 per cent said if they’d had more staff they would have done better. About one-third reported a better September to last year.

What does all this mean?

Certainly, Haliburton County is doing fiscally better than some areas of our province forced to retreat to Stage 2 reopenings. And whether you like the fact cottagers are coming more often and staying longer, it has a positive impact on the economy. It is the same for those people choosing to renovate their cottagers to stay longer, even permanently. We are seeing that boom in real estate and building.

Chamber board president Andrea Strano, in addressing the local layoffs, said it will impact the community for many months to come.

She’s right. We will likely see more businesses opt to close over the winter months instead of struggling to cover costs with the prospect of little return on investment. We’ll really see the full impact next spring, when some of those businesses will opt not to reopen at all. Some have said a vaccine might be ready for the spring which will certainly bolster business confidence. But, like all things with this pandemic, only time will tell.

In the meantime, County residents can do their part by continuing to shop local and helping the businesses that have supported them over the years, whether donating to charitable fundraisers or sponsoring our kids’ sports teams. After all, we remain in this together.

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