Hamilton has sadly had to bid farewell to several beloved businesses during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic so far. And while most of these closures weren’t solely a result of the pandemic, it certainly has not made anything easier for businesses in the city.
There have been quite a few businesses, however, in Hamilton that have been able to pivot their operations and stay afloat.
Although Darlene MacNeil’s experience has been a bit different.
MacNeil, who worked in the live music industry, and her husband, who worked in broadcasting, both lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. They took this opportunity to launch their own business: Pop Engine Productions Inc.
“We are a video production and marketing company, specializing in the creation of exceptional content for businesses to promote their products and services,” MacNeil explained, adding that they only launched on January 4th but have already been welcomed warmly by the Hamilton community.
But there have been some obstacles to overcome. One of the biggest: not knowing what the next round of restrictions will look like.
“We have to constantly come up with ideas – ways we can improvise,” MacNeil said. “Looking at challenges like opportunities instead of obstacles helps.”
Chocolate Sensations is another business the popped up in Hamilton during the pandemic. Sarah and John Chalmers opened the door to this sweet spot back in June of 2020, however, Sarah revealed they had been interested in expanding to Ancaster (from Paris) for several years.
Nonetheless, their opening was delayed.
“Due to the pandemic, we were delayed in opening by two months,” Sarah told In the Hammer. “And there was so much uncertainty for all businesses with how we would all respond within the pandemic. And it was important to pivot to online sales and to make our stores as safe as we could so our customers felt comfortable coming in.”
Thankfully, Sarah said, Chocolate Sensations has been embraced by the Ancaster community.
MacNeil was able to start a business during the pandemic and join the city’s community of business owners. And the Chalmers’ were able to open a second location.
But there have been some businesses that have been part of the community for a few years that have pivoted their entire business model.
Sheryl Cronsberry, of Chocolat on James, said her business is just one of many that has had to pivot.
Chocolat had been open for five years when COVID hit, just as Cronsberry was gearing up for the Easter holiday.
“I was pretty panicked at the time,” Cronsberry said.
Cronsberry explained that, before the pandemic, she had always resisted selling online and that Chocolat on James had always done well just advertising on social media.
The situation, however, called for some drastic changes and they made the pivot to sell products online.
“We thought about quarantine packages,” Cronsberry said. “We called them ‘At Home TV Care Packages’, and we just started advertising, ‘If you’re stuck at home, basically in front of the TV, you might as well have some good snacks’. And we offered these $50 packages – we offered three different kinds with free delivery and that really, really went well. At the time everyone was very receptive.”
Cronsberry noted that due to the recent provincial stay-at-home-order, and state of emergency, Chocolat on James will not be re-pivoting but bringing the care packages back.
Another Hamilton business that has had to pivot its business plan is Tea Amo.
In 2019, Tea Amo started hosting tea parties for private events with a travelling tea trailer. However, COVID put this to a stop. Marian and Heather Peter, the mother and daughter duo behind the business, had to rethink their business model moving forward.
“When COVID first began, we had put a small hold on our business to figure out what to do, at this time we did our Tuesday Tea Talks (a free virtual tea talk every Tuesday on our Facebook page),” the duo explained in an email. “It allowed for some normalcy for people and brought some good news that wasn’t just about COVID. We plan to continue this, though maybe more like once every month now.”
Tea Amo also started offering loose-leaf teas, along with ‘Afternoon Tea Boxes, and ‘Scone Boxes’ that can be delivered right to customers. So far, according to Marian and Heather, the response has been great.
“We definitely plan to continue with the loose-leaf teas, tea accessories, and the Afternoon Tea Boxes,” they said. “We may expand to even more of a food menu in the near future.”
What the future holds is anyone’s guess, but the duo is optimistic.
“Who knows what the further future will have in mind for Tea Amo but it will definitely be based around Afternoon Tea and tea parties,” they said.
Pivot options for many food-based businesses in the city have been similar: offering delivery and curbside pick-up options through their own website, or services such as Skip the Dishes, among other things.
But how have some non-food-based businesses managed during this time?
For Lana Kopelev of Right Way Auto Repair & Sales, the onset of the pandemic meant ensuring there were enough cleaning and disinfecting products, along with sanitization procedures and social distancing. Kopelev said, via email, that these strategies were implemented right away. Kopelev also noted the business’s Digital Vehicle Inspection has been beneficial.
“A Digital Vehicle Inspection is a tool that allows us to document all aspects of an inspection, take photos and videos of the good and bad stuff we see on tier car, and send it directly to our customers via text or email,” Kopelev said. “Our customers see what we see while staying in the comfort and safety of their homes.”
For Heron Creek Yoga & Fitness, the location shut its doors when the pandemic was first announced.
“We wanted to protect our members and staff,” founder Dawn Sarabura said in an email. Currently, all classes are being offered online and Sarabura started a new business specifically for personal training. The response from customers, according to Sarabura, has been encouraging.
“We have a very strong community and a large number of our members opted to continue paying and taking classes online,” Sarabura said. “Some of our members support us as their small business of choice during the pandemic, even though they can’t come in right now.”
While many Hamilton businesses have been able to pivot, there is still a concern for the ones who will not be as fortunate.
The federal government has announced support for businesses such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. And the provincial government has announced financial relief options for businesses such as the Ontario Small Business Support Grant.
Cronsberry has been able to take advantage of the financial support that has been provided by the provincial and federal governments. As a result, Chocolat on James has been able to survive despite seeing a cut in income, but Cronsberry questioned whether other businesses in the city will be as lucky.
“A lot of [people] were walking down the street in the summertime and experiencing restaurants, clothing shops and everything,” Cronsberry said. “How many of those [businesses] will be around six months from now, eight months from now? I think everyone’s been hanging on for a while now. But how much longer can everybody hang? That’s my worry.”