Monica Gomez says she specifically created her contactless Christmas lights drive-thru event as a safe experience that could spread some holiday cheer during COVID-19.
She says she followed the government’s guidelines on how she can run the business safely, with measures such as contactless payment and requiring visitors to stay in their vehicles at all times. She even applied for a grant that was specifically for drive-thru businesses, she said.
So she was caught off guard on Dec. 21 when she learned Ontario’s provincewide lockdown on Boxing Day means her business will have to dim its lights.
“(The grant) gave not only myself but everybody who wants to do drive-thrus that confidence to go ahead and invest in this,” Gomez said. “It’s an already been a tough year for us. Now we’ve invested all this money into this experience and in our busiest weeks, we’re being shut down.”
Gomez has been operating a drive-thru Christmas lights festival called Polar Drive since Nov. 27. It was originally slated to run until Jan. 3. Gomez said they were hoping to extend it another two weeks because they’ve been “slammed” with so many parents looking for something safe to do with their kids.
“It’s really all people have and mental health is such a huge problem right now,” Gomez said. “And the one thing that families could do safely together, it just doesn’t make sense to us to take that away.”
Mississauga, where Polar Drive is located, has already been under a grey-lockdown level since Nov. 23. The sweeping provincewide restrictions coming into effect on Saturday prohibit drive-in or drive-thru entertainment events; however drive-thru dining is permitted.
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It’s indicative of what is seen as a ham-fisted and unfair approach by the province in restricting business operations.
“At the same time you’re allowing drive-thru dining, which has contact. And then there’s our experience, where there’s zero contact and people are literally just driving through looking at lights,” Gomez said.
She said with schools being closed for at least two weeks, it makes even less sense to remove what she believes is a safe option for families to get out.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said he expects the provincewide lockdown will be the nail in the coffin for many independent businesses. According to CFIB data, more than one-third of Ontario businesses say they won’t survive a second lockdown.
“This is super dire. To lock down a huge swath of Ontario’s business community during a very crucial season is just going to be punishing,” Kelly said. “There’s no question there will be thousands and thousands of businesses that won’t make it.”
Kelly is less concerned with the government instating the provincewide lockdown on Boxing Day as he is about what he sees an unfair, one-size-fits-all approach that creates an unfair playing field for independent businesses.
The strict lockdown measures, which were originally set to start on Thursday, mean nearly all non-essential businesses must close for at least two weeks in northern regions and four weeks in southern regions. Large retail stores that also sell non-essential items can continue to operate.
Omar Mosleh is an Edmonton-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @OmarMosleh
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