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London retailers face Boxing Day challenges, and wonder what lies ahead - London Free Press (Blogs)

Dec 28, 2021

Author of the article:

Serena Marotta

Publishing date:

Dec 27, 2021  •  12 hours ago  •  3 minute read  •  25 Comments

Daman Madesha is co-owner of Livin' Style Furniture on Wharncliffe Road South in London. Photograph taken on Sunday Dec. 26, 2021. Serena Marotta/The London Free Press Daman Madesha is co-owner of Livin' Style Furniture on Wharncliffe Road South in London. Photograph taken on Sunday Dec. 26, 2021. Serena Marotta/The London Free Press

It’s supposed to be one of the biggest shopping days of the year, but for independent retailers across London, Boxing Day was dulled by government-imposed half-capacity limits.

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And with COVID-19’s Omicron variant sending caseloads spiking, even as hospitalizations have not yet risen dramatically, many business owners are worried about what new hurdles may loom in the early weeks of 2022.

“Days like today get more challenging because you have people lining up in the cold, and that’s obviously not as attractive as coming in and just being able to do your shopping,” said Michael Haynik, manager of Visions Electronics.

There’s room for 65 people inside, and about 20 were waiting outside to enter the store when it opened at 7 a.m. Sunday. While online sales have been “pretty good” and the business has stayed afloat, Haynik said that if the government tightens its restrictions, there could be problems in the new year.

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“I’m expecting we’ll probably see more capacity limits and that kind of thing coming really quickly based off the case count,” he said, adding that another lockdown could lead to staff cuts at the store, located on Wonderland Road South.

On Boxing Day, Ontario health officials reported 9,826 new cases of COVID-19. There were 10,412 new cases on Saturday, surpassing the Friday’s record of 9,571 cases. There were no local caseload updates for London and surrounding Middlesex County.

Daman Madesha, co-owner of Livin’ Style Furniture, said he wasn’t concerned about COVID-19 impacting his business – but the rapid spread of Omicron is changing his outlook.

While the 50 per cent capacity restriction hasn’t been an issue at his 17,000-square-foot showroom on Wharncliffe Road South, Madesha said 90 per cent of the store’s sales are done in-person. The first two weeks of January are typically when he makes the most sales, he said, and he’s worried COVID’s spread could lead to tighter restrictions – and another lockdown.

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“We have other sources of income, so we’ll manage, but it’s more the people who are working that I’m more concerned for, and a lot of other business owners as well,” said Madesha, who owns the building and has tenants who pay rent at two others in London, and several more in Hamilton and St. Catharines.

“A lot of people, they don’t have online [stores], they solely rely on in-store sales,” said Madesha, “so I’m worried for them, too.”

Like many business owners, Madesha has faced ongoing supply-chain issues throughout the pandemic. Furniture that used to take three or four weeks to make is now taking up to 20 weeks, he said.

“Stuff is just not being made, and that’s been tough, because lead times for customers are so long,” he said. “You get some customers who will understand and then you’ll get some who don’t . . . they don’t get what’s happening or why it’s happening.

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“It’s pretty messy right now, but there’s not much we can do about it.”

At Forest City Surplus on Dundas Street, online and radio ads used to be a driving force of the store’s seasonal sales. But in response to Omicron – and in an effort to keep staff and customers safe – the camping, survival and outdoor gear retailer changed its approach this year.

“We kind of toned it down this year, because we don’t want people running in and possibly somebody getting [COVID] standing in line. We don’t want to have people piling up to try and get inside the store,” said manager Or’Ryn MacDonald.

“It seems like a lot of customers are even afraid to come in,” he added. “We haven’t even gotten to a point where we’ve gotten close to reaching capacity.”

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At half-capacity, the store holds 50 people, but MacDonald said there hasn’t been more than 35 customers in the store at a given time since the government’s indoor capacity restrictions took effect Dec. 19.

On Boxing Day, there were even fewer customers than usual, said MacDonald, but he said he’s more “nervous” about the variant and how it’s going to impact the safety of his staff and customers – and the store’s sales – in the weeks ahead.

“Moving product is going to be difficult. It just seems like a lot of people right now are not looking for anything to buy . . . they’re all staying at home with their family, so it’s going to be difficult.”

But MacDonald said the lack of in-store traffic isn’t all bad.

“If people are staying home, then hopefully restrictions will be loosened up,” he said. “But obviously it is going to hurt small businesses.”

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