Whitby business community ‘struggling’ amid COVID-19 crisis

Butchie's restaurant in Whitby. Photo credit: Courtesy Butchies Instagram

Andrea Nicholson says it’s been incredibly difficult to run her Whitby eatery on a limited scale during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Butchie’s, a Texas-style BBQ restaurant at 939 Dundas St. W., has been in business almost three years and pride themselves on making everything in house.

“To simply put it, it’s been extremely stressful. I mean, restaurants run on an extremely low margin. We don’t make tons of money, we put in a lot of work for little return. So it’s been very chaotic,” she says.

Several local businesses in Whitby, including Butchie’s, have laid off staff after the provincial government ordered all bars and restaurants to close March 17 (with the exception of takeout and delivery).

“I had 19 employees, but sadly we’ve had to lay off a lot of them. It’s put the business in a massive peril. I mean, we’re heading into an unknown,” she says.

Butchie’s is currently offering its customers meals to purchase and heat at home.

“It’s really hard to keep the restaurant open to do takeout for many reasons. One reason is just the safety of my staff. You know, it’s a concern if people are coming into the restaurant,” she says.

“We don’t know if they’re sick or not and I just don’t want to put my staff or myself at jeopardy of getting sick.”

Natalie Prychitko, chief executive officer of the Whitby Chamber of Commerce, says COVID-19 is having a significant impact on the town’s economy.

“The Whitby business community is struggling to maintain any type of business continuity. The Whitby Chamber of Commerce has over 700 members across the region, and our team has been spending a lot of time this week listening to their challenges,” she says.

Prychitko says many local business sectors are being forced to lay off employees during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Losing great employees and shuttering your business indefinitely is devastating for entrepreneurs and subsequently for their employees,” she adds.

As a small business owner, Nicholson believes the most important thing anyone can do is listen to the experts – the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and local, provincial and federal governments.

“The longer that this goes on for the more impactful it will be to small businesses,” she adds.

When it comes to supporting a local business, Nicholson believes everyone should assist where they can and do so safely.

Prychitko says shuttering places where people come together also hurts people, but everyone is challenged right now, but notes some businesses have been able to transition.

“What has been wonderful to see is the evolution of their business models – things like offering delivery, offering their services remotely or through classes on the internet,” she says.

“Although creative, the impacts for all businesses have been severe as many don’t have the option or ability to have a remote workforce.”

Once the pandemic is over, Nicholson says Butchie’s is going to go back to its regular business. She believes people are going to be really excited to get back out into the world and start socializing again and going to patios.

“I’m hopeful that people are going to come out in hordes and start really celebrating and understanding the importance of these small businesses and that they’ll give back to the community,” she says.

“I’m hopeful. I don’t often see things with the glass half-empty, I’m a pretty positive person so I’m just trying to stay in that lane and tell our staff the same thing.”

Prychitko says when it comes to helping the community be sure to thank local businesses for what they’re doing.

“Shop local – remember the immense talent, resources and businesses still open and available for you to purchase from and support,” she says.

“Thank them for staying open. Thank the clerks, those that are replenishing shelves, running coffee shops, working a skeleton crew to maintain their business, those thinking out of the box to support our economy. That is how I believe the community can help and we can all get back to business.”