‘We’ll get through this’: cottage country businesses pivot amid COVID-19

Photo by @TSDistillers/Twitter

COVID-19 has crept into cottage country and is spreading quickly. Cases continue to rise in interior B.C., which includes popular cottage areas such as the Okanagan and Kootenay, The Eastern Townships in Quebec and Ontario’s Haliburton, and Kawarthas.

With these numbers ballooning daily, Ontario and Quebec’s premiers have ordered the closure of all non-essential services, including cottage country businesses, leaving many concerned over issues of bankruptcy. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has created a small business help center to answer questions surrounding rent payments, loans, taxes, and the federal government’s relief measures.

7 ways cottage real estate has changed

“Town is definitely quiet,” says Kate Butler, director of the Haliburton Highlands Museum. “The vast majority of shops are closed, but there are a few restaurants offering takeout.”

Forced closure is causing businesses to find creative ways to engage with customers. Haliburton’s museum, which has been closed to visitors since March 16, is doing this by taking its collection and programming online.

“One that’s been really popular is the Museum from Home,” Butler says. “Every day, I’ve been sharing one artifact [on social media] out of the collection and we’ve been going through in alphabetical order.” Often, the item is taken from the museum’s storage collection, so it’s one that visitors may not have seen before.

Butler has also posted the kids’ programming she had planned for March Break on the museum’s Facebook page. Just in case parents were thinking, “’Oh my gosh, how do we keep them busy? How do we keep them amused? How do we keep them learning?’” Butler says the museum has them covered.

Key placements for your cottage security cameras

Top Shelf Distillers, a Perth, Ont. distillery known for its gin and vodka, is taking a different approach to its business model during the pandemic. The distillery has put its production of alcoholic beverages on hold to produce 236 ml bottles of hand sanitizer instead. Considering the current emphasis on keeping one’s hands clean, hand sanitizer has become a hot commodity with stores quickly running out.

Top Shelf’s hand sanitizer is available to order, but the distillery’s stock is limited due to the difficulty in acquiring ingredients. The orders, therefore, are not first come first served, but are instead prioritized by staff based on need.

Another business that is stepping up during the crisis is Keren Huyter of Huyter House Sewing and Design in Salmon Arm, B.C. When the COVID-19 pandemic started to ramp up, Huyter received a request from friend Tracey Kirkman, the executive director of the Shuswap North Okanagan Division of Family Practice, to create medical gowns (or personal protective equipment) for local clinics.

10 repairs every cottager can master

“Generally, this time of year, I’ve been doing dance costumes or wedding dress alterations,” Huyter says. She still has a few of these to work on, but medical gowns have become her top priority. “[Kirkman] contracted me to make 30 gowns originally,” Huyter says. “Now, she’s asked for another 100.”

Huyter creates the gowns in a garage converted into a home studio using a pattern she made from a provided gown. Each gown takes approximately an hour and fifteen minutes to create and is picked up by a local doctor. “I know they’re going to need them,” she explained.

While the pandemic has financially devastated some businesses, others are pivoting in an effort to stay in business and help out. “People are being creative. People are looking after each other and trying to figure out the best way to move forwards,” Butler says. “We’ll get through this.”

Feature Video