With the announcement that Ontario would be extending the stay-at-home-order, outdoor recreation businesses in southwestern Ontario are losing patience, and looking at potentially losing it all.
On Thursday, Premier Doug Ford extended Ontario’s stay-at-home order another two weeks to June 2. This comes as the order was set to expire on May 20, ahead of the Victoria Day long weekend.
With the extension comes the continued shutdown of outdoor recreation activities, with seasonal businesses starting to feel the impact of a second summer with COVID-19 restrictions.
“Water parks in Ontario will not be able to survive another season without being able to open this summer because when you are a seasonal business, you have a short time to make money and we lost last season altogether,” said Alon Shatil, owner of East Park London.
East Park London offers several outdoor activities like a golf course, mini-golf, go karting, batting cages and a water park.
Shatil was optimistic that if the stay-at-home order was extended, they would be allowed to open some of their outdoor actives.
He supports the efforts by the province to keep people safe and hospital cases down, but said it’s difficult and frustrating when outdoor activities have been deemed safe by health professionals.
The science table advising the province has largely criticized the restriction of outdoor activities, saying they will not control COVID-19 and disproportionately harm children and those who don’t have access to their own green space.
Experts say outdoor activities have a lower risk of spreading COVID-19.
Last year, East Park was able to run its batting cages and golf course, but the water park was closed all season.
“The water park is the main part of our business, and it was not able to operate, so it’s been devastating for us, but it’s been worse for others.”
Looking ahead, Shatil hopes the provincial government is willing to work with businesses like his to work towards a safe opening of outdoor activities instead of limiting them.
“If we stay the course for the next two weeks, and continue vaccinating record number of Ontarians every day, we can begin looking forward to July and August and having the summer that everyone deserves,” Ford said.
Juan Castro, owner of Splash seadoo and boat rentals Grand Bend said with a business that only has a 10-week season, losing two weeks is a big hit.
“We might not make it because we get 10 weeks to make all of our money for the year, so if we only run for five weeks, we only make 50 per cent profit, but a lot of expenses are year-round,” Castro said.
If they don’t open up this summer, Castro said they still have to pay to store all of their boats and seadoos, which is a year-round cost as well as paying for insurance.
“Even if we don’t open up and we cancel (our insurance) they keep 50 per cent.”
Castro said it’s been extremely hard to even test their equipment to get it ready with marinas closed during the shutdown.
He said they typically open for the May long weekend, but given the time they need to prepare, he was already planning on delaying that by one week to get everything ready.
Like Shatil, Castro said he understands the government is trying to keep people safe but does not underrated why outdoor businesses like his which do not require much contact are not allowed to open.
Castro, who bought the business mid-season last year said he was not anticipating another COVID-19 summer. Because he was a new owner, he did not qualify for any of the government grants or subsidies.
“If we miss out on three weeks that’s 30 per cent of our profits gone, that’s what we have leftover at the end of the season, so there a good chance if we are shut longer we might not make any money at all.”
With files from Ryan Rocca
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