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Businesses hit hard by pandemic

(Marisela Amador The Eastern Door)


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Bart Goodleaf was sitting in the parking lot of his gas station, Harnois, on Monday, watching the number of customers pull in to gas up and maybe even grab a coffee.

“The number of customers in terms of the volume of business is down significantly,” said Goodleaf. “We are down to less than a quarter of what we used to do.”

Goodleaf, who also owns the Host Hotel and La Belle Province, located within the gas station, said that they usually processed up to 1,000 transactions a day and are now average about 200.

Tim Hortons, he said, is owned by someone else, but Goodleaf “hosts” it within his complex.

Along with the slower business, Goodleaf also had to deal with a case of the dreaded COVID-19. He and his wife Mary have recently recovered from the virus after testing positive around Halloween.

“I hadn’t seen my employees for a couple of weeks. All of the rest of my family and employees got tested, and everyone was negative,” he said.

But it is not all doom and gloom at the Harnois. As Goodleaf explained, Tim Hortons was actually doing very well, and they have been extra busy of late.

Further, his 18-room hotel has surprisingly been operating at 75 percent capacity.

“I know other people in the hotel business that are down to five percent, two percent. There is no one vacationing,” he said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Host Hotel was offered to the community as a quarantine space for returning essential workers.

However, only three people ever quarantined at the Host, and Goodleaf reopened it to the public by mid-summer.

“The Belle Province has been really, really suffering, probably on the brink of… if we go on the amount of business we have at the Belle, we should be closed. We are working in the minuses for sure,” he said.

Goodleaf said that he is keeping his restaurant open for take-out, hoping it will eventually bounce back, although he is considering applying to the Kahnawake Business Interruption Fund.

“We have a truck stop, and we host 75 trucks every night, and that doesn’t stop. The business is at 80 percent of what it used to be, so we are all right in that sector of the business,” said Goodleaf.

But despite his determination, COVID-19, and specifically this second wave, have hurt his businesses deeply.

Goodleaf said that things started to look up during the summer, and the feeling was that everything was slowly getting back to normal, but unfortunately, his retail numbers didn’t support that sentiment.

“The overall feeling is that … just like everybody else, I am scared of what is going to happen in the future with business and the whole economy, really,” he said.

He said that only 30 percent of his staff are working right now. Unfortunately, he had to lay many off.

In early September, some of his employees that had been on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) asked to return to work, while others refused.

“In terms of being a businessman, I want to stay to the end. As for the employees, they know we are in it for the long haul. It’s like a family.”

His battle with coronavirus also changed his perspective about the Kahnawake COVID-19 Task Force and the security measures to curb the spread of the virus in the community.

“In the beginning, I felt almost violated, upset. How can they do this to the businesses? They have no consideration. But then the reality set in that people are on ventilators and dying,” said Goodleaf.

“So, the measures have to be put in place, and I am really appreciative and supportive of everything that they do. And I think that they are doing the best they can,” he said.

Unfortunately, those feelings of uncertainty and pessimism about what will happen over these next cold winter months linger in his head.

“We are staying open no matter what. You are going to have to drag me out of here,” said Goodleaf.

Donna McComber, who coowns JFK Quarry and Khanata Gas Bar, said that the most important thing during this second wave has been making sure that everyone is taking care of their mental health.

“It has been a big adaptation period, obviously just like everyone else. Making sure that our employees are staying safe and not being complacent about the health measures,” said McComber.

She said that she and her business partners have been very fortunate thus far. They haven’t had any positive cases, but their businesses have been impacted by the pandemic.

“We are working almost at an even keel. From 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. every morning, we would have a lineup for gas because of traffic. There is no traffic anymore. Our numbers are down, but everyone is still employed,” she said.

Aside from the quarry and gas station, McComber also operates a convenience store with a small kitchenette that feeds many of the workers from the surrounding area.

She said that she lost a few employees from the store because of fear, but the team keeps pushing and has been able to adapt and keep the kitchen open while ensuring that all of the safety measures are followed.

During the first wave, the quarry was completely shut down and only reopened in June. This time around, employees have the option of working from home if they choose.

“We encourage everyone to reach out if they need help. We are here for them. As leaders, we all have to show them that they are not alone,” said McComber.

By the end of August, Mackenzie Cal Kirby and his partners were eagerly awaiting the reopening of Playground Poker, their gaming facility.

They had a thorough plan in place that had been approved by the Task Force. They were to have a phased reopening that would steadily increase capacity over a four-week period.

Unfortunately, midway through that timetable, Playground was informed that they would have to shut down again because of the increase of positive cases all around the community. “It was obviously short-lived and very disappointing in that sense, only being able to operate for four weeks after a long process of getting the reopening plan together,” he said.

However, Kirby said that he completely understands why the Task Force made the decision.

“Ultimately, we knew that we were not a contributing factor to the situation – we received a lot of good feedback from customers and Task Force inspectors. We assumed that a closure was in the works, potentially,” said Kirby.

Since the second shut down, all of Playground’s employees are currently at home.

Kirby has managed to keep busy during this closure, and his team has been adding and enhancing the safety measures at the establishment, given that everything changes so quickly, and they want to be prepared.

“I have been working with the Task Force, and a proposal has been submitted to them on how we could potentially find a middle ground in terms of at least operating on some level of economic activity, while also balancing the health and safety of the community.”

The restaurant part of the business, The Rail Coal Fire Bistro, is still open for take-out and delivery.

“We have a poker product and our electronic gaming devices. Those obviously have taken the brunt of the pandemic.

“From a gaming standpoint, it’s tough since it is heavily dependent on foot traffic. There are no streams of revenue that we can find with that,” said Kirby.

However, he is more optimistic today than he was just a few weeks ago, given the recent news that rapid testing might soon be available and that some of the vaccine trials are nearing completion.

“I think we understand that we will be limited in our offering for the next little while. But it is tough because we don’t have all the answers, and I don’t expect the Task Force to have all the answers either,” he said.

Kirby believes that the one thing that the pandemic has reinforced is that in business, one must be creative and be able to adapt.


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