By Sean Delaney
John Kiru, Executive Director of TABIA (Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas) said it's been a hard time for small business owners, one that was developing even before a pandemic saw the roof cave in. And he called on banks to step up with governments to give the businesses the support they need.
“Aside from the administrators of some federal (government) programs, banks haven't done anything,” Kiru said. “They have to help on commercial accounts. It's one we're scratching our heads on. Everyone needs to contribute to the national good. They could be more helpful.”
Kiru said the 83 BIA's across the GTA are independent and unique, but all are involved in an “exercise in monitoring” as the coronavirus pandemic changes the world.
“We're watching what's happening,” Kiru said. “Traditional retail was hurting even before the pandemic. It became obvious especially in Toronto, with the taxes they are paying and the carrying costs of operating a business on main street. They had significant pressure already. As well, we've seen changes in consumer shopping habits over the past decade."
Kiru said the move to online shopping, such as Amazon, was already forcing small and large retail businesses to begin rethinking their environment. With the pandemic, strong support from the community, landlords, government and other institutions is needed.
“Especially coming off of Christmas,” Kiru said. “It's already traditionally a tough time for businesses. Bills are coming due.
“The pandemic was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.”
He said the key word for businesses right now is pivot.
“Those that can pivot in their business are ones that will make it through,” he said. “Some bricks and mortar will have to move to become bricks and clicks after this.”
Curbside pick-up, ordering online, shopping online are all prime examples, and Kiru believes programs spearheaded by the TABIA, such as Digital Main Street, will be the types of initiatives that will see businesses find the evolution they need.
And even BIAs are going to have to refocus, he said. They will need to examine the programming they are offering and adapt. Unexpected ripples in the pond are everywhere because of the virus.
“Ryerson has announced they are not coming back,” Kiru said. “So think of the little food shops that will have to do without the thousands of students. Businesses are going to have to rethink operations, and what will the terms of conditions of opening be? Will you have to scrub down everything, and how much? Can you use disposable cutlery? Will you have to take temperatures of customers coming in? All theses things need to be thought of and incorporated into a strategy.”
Toronto's BIA's are doing the research and hard work for businesses, Kiru said. Now, he'd like to see all of Canada's institutions lend what support they can, particularly to the small business owner.
“We're all in this together,” he said.