Windsor Ontario News / Food & Retail

Covid-19 insolvencies DOWN big time

WindsorOntarioNews.com Sept. 22 2020

Despite varying degrees of busines lockdowns over the past six months the number of people and businesses experiencing severe financing problems hasn’t materialized. That’s according to a couple of area insolvency trustees. In fact, said Kathy Liberty (photo) of MNP Ltd., there has been a decrease in people and companies getting into financial trouble. “We actually saw a downturn in the number of insolvencies during May, June, July – well, May and June, we really saw a dramatic downturn,” she said, The federal Superintendent of Bankruptcy’s stats showed that Ontario insolvencies were down 36.3 per cent in July compared to the same month a year earlier. The reason? Likely the array of government and private support, from personal CERB deposits to retail rent relief to banks deferring mortgages. “As well the average spending of Ontarians changed dramatically because restaurants were closed, theatres were closed, malls were closed,” Liberty said. “So, the ability to spend their money was not there.” But the opposite started occurring in August and increased in September as aid programs began winding down, people went back to work and creditors started to demand loan repayments. “August the phone calls started, people expressing interest in what’s available to help them,” Liberty said. “September the phone calls have increased even a bit more.” The jury is out on whether tomorrow’s federal Thorne Speech will have more relief though the government has announced programs like the $2000 monthly CERB will be merged with a less generous EI program. Trustee Stephen Funtig said it’s still “too early” to see an upsurge in people and companies experiencing financial trouble. But he expects that could happen later this year if major aid programs wind down or run out. “There’s only so long that you can keep on getting people some relief and then what happens when they take away that program,” he asked. “I think a lot of those things (insolvencies, bankruptcies) will happen.”

Photo: MNP Ltd.

RETAIL BRIEFS: New app a boost for disabled drivers, Two Men and a Truck now here, and Harvey's makes a burger even more beautiful

WindsorOntarioNews.com Sept. 3. 2020

Driving just hot a bit easier for people with disabilities. B’nai Brith Canada today announced a new app that will ease their worries if they have to fill up with gas but are physically compromised from getting out of the car and using the pump. The “fuelService” app was developed with Shell Canada. Participating Shell stations will provide an attendant to fill up the car for them. “The app will provide a whole new level of freedom for disabled drivers, and promises to be a major gain for accessibility in Canada, Canada’s leading Jewish advocacy group says. The app was developed by B’nai Brith member Eddie Rice. Rice contracted polio at a young age and was personally affected as a disabled driver. He’s also head of the Canadian Coalition for Mobility Challenged Drivers. Ontario's disability legislation had no provision for full service for disabled drivers.

Photo: Eddie Rice (right) with former Ontario lieutenant-governor David Onley (Canadian Jewish News)

Windsor finally has a Two Men and a Truck franchise. Nigerian immigrant Nicolas Udumukwu arrived in Canada last year after a background in banking and was looking for meaningful business opportunity. After investigating the company, and with friends who had franchises in western Canada, he and wife Rhoda (left) signed up for the franchise. “After being unable to open their franchise earlier this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Nicolas and Rhoda Udumukwu are now open to serve consumer and business customers requiring moving and packing services in Windsor and Essex County,” company president John Prittie. The franchise is at 2825 Lauzon Parkway, Unit 202, Windsor, ON. N8T 3H5. Phone 519.419.5756; twomenwindsor.ca.

Like other businessesHarvey’s hamburgers is giving back to Covid-19 first responders. HaRVey’s RV Tour comes to Windsor tomorrow at University Plaza, 2700 Tecumseh Rd. W., 12 – 3 pm. Harvey's is taking its hamburgers and hockey sticks - for physical distancing - on the road and giving away 50,000 free "Thanks" burgers.


A classic bookstore grows in the 'burg

WindsorOntarioNews.com August 5 2020

The region’s first new independent bookstore – or bookstore of any kind - will soon be opening in the heart of downtown Amherstburg. And the owner is none other than part Toronto transplant – but originally an Essex County kid – Richard Peddie, former president and CEO of Maple Lead Sports and Entertainment. Peddie and wife Colleen built a second house on Boblo Island some years ago and Peddie has become a major civic contributor to the ‘burg. He’s president of the Amherstburg Community Foundation, a philanthropic organization which funds local charities. Now he and Colleen are on their latest local venture. It’s called the River Bookshop at 67 Richmond St. in the former River Town Times newspaper building. The store may be a business but the owners see it as also a contribution to the town’s social fabric. “Our River Bookshop wishes to make Amherstburg even better to live and visit by creating a shop that is grounded in our community but open to the world. River Bookshop will be a community hub, a ‘Third Place’ where people gather and will feel comfortable spending time,” the website says. But not any bookshop. The exterior and interior will be rich in architectural details with a definitive historic look harkening back to bookstores of old. They label it “Victorian new and now” in the 1885 corner building. Three high-powered Toronto design and marketing firms are involved. The lead is Lebel & Boulaine architects, which seeks clients “who want to actively engage their built environment and create a cultural experience of space, community and purpose.” One Method created the logo and a wall mural along the store’s Ramsay St. side. It also “came up with a fun idea for the first floor. You have to visit the bookshop to find it.” Finally, ModelCtzn, had the idea for a “very unique event space” on the second floor. It’s “something that simply doesn’t exist in Essex County today...But two clues: F. Scott Fitzgerald and rum runners.” We’ll bite: a legal speakeasy?

Image: RiverBookshop,com

BIAs report business as usual

WindsorOntarioNews.com June 18 2020

With Windsor-Essex being one of three Ontario regions still locked in Phase One of provincial re-openings in the wake of coronavirus lockdowns – and many small businesses shut tight or operations curtailed dramatically for three months – how much damage might be strewn across the local retail landscape? WON.com wanted to find out if any local mom and pop shops have gone out of business for lack of revenue, cash flow or not being able to pay rent. We contacted several neighborhood business improvement associations and heard back from four. Bridget Scheuerman, coordinator of the Olde Riverside, Pillette Villages and Ford City BIAs, said she would “not comment on any bankruptcies, permanent closings as I do not feel that is the purpose of the BIA.” Instead, she said, the purpose is to assist businesses “through beautification and marketing.” That said, Scheuerman said businesses “have fared well and are starting to reopen” pending provincial guidelines. “At this point I am not aware of any permanent closings.” She added that Olde Riverside has undertaken an “aggressive marketing program” throughout COVID. Meanwhile, Debi Croucher, executive director of the downtown BIA, took a definitive upbeat tone. “What's open downtown during COVID-19? More than what's closed, that's for sure,” Croucher said. She said “so many of our members have been able to adapt to the pandemic and have continued to offer services throughout.” These include some of Windsor’s best-known businesses like The Coffee Exchange, Rogue's Gallery Comics and Basil Court Thai Restaurant. And retailers like Behind the Wood and Whiskeyjack Boutique have maintained business through curbside pickup and delivery. “Other downtown services like mechanics, pharmacies, lawyers and accountants have remained open for the duration of the pandemic,” Croucher said.

Photo: City of Windsor

Corner stores even more convenient during pandemic

WindsorOntarioNews.com May 26 2020

Convenience stores have stepped up their niche market by being even more convenient during Covid. So says Dave Bryan, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association. ”We’re finding more and more customers are actually more comfortable coming to a smaller footprint like a convenience store to pick up their daily needs, not their major grocery items,” he said. “So, we’re seeing a higher traffic count.” Convenience stores also offer products groceries and some pharmacies don’t, such as lottery tickets and cigarettes. Corner and family run small stores sell 76 per cent of lottery tickets and those sales were up 15 per cent last month, Bryan said. As well, with First Nations reserves voluntarily closed, convenience stores are selling “99 per cent” of smokes. “Our in-store tobacco business is up anywhere from 20 to 30 per cent, which brings in more traffic and incremental sales,” Bryan says. “As long as the government can figure out to keep the reserves from selling cheap cigarettes the convenience sector will be strong and viable going forward.” (It’s illegal to sell federally native-allocated cigarettes with official peach colored stamps to non-natives.) One part of the sector is down, however. Stores that have gas pumps have seen gas sales down 30 to 40 per cent because fewer are driving, Bryan said. But for those buying gas they're encouraged to pay at the pump. As for social distancing, the small scale of corner stores hasn’t posed a problem. “We’re very fortunate because we don’t usually have more than two people in a store at a time, they come and go and speed of service means they’re there for less than five minutes,” Bryan said. But owners still ask customers to stand six feet apart, there are plexiglass shields, and debit/credit cards are encouraged. As for purchasing PPE some additional expenses have been incurred by stores. But the bottom line is that’s “been offset by an increase in sales.” Despite the sector’s buoyancy, however, some stores still struggle with rent. The association has also commenced a Buy Local campaign (photo above).

Social distancing and pot sales – marriage made in haven

WindsorOntarioNews.com May 11 2020

Ever since social distancing regulations have been implemented due to Covid-19, provincial cannabis retailers have seen a massive increase in sales. That’s according to the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) as well as the 55 private retailers scattered around the province. Before March 9, when the rules took effect, online sales were between 2500 and 3500 a day. That increased to 6000, 10,000 and topped 13,000 at peak the first week of April, which coincides with the start of the dramatic rise of Covid-19 infections in the province in early April. Pot sales peaked about April 4 but infections continued to increase reaching a peak about mid-April. And just like such large digital retailers as Amazon and Walmart, the OCS has added staff to its warehouse and is dramatically expanding courier shipping. “At OCS’s third-party distribution centre, this has meant staffing up and at the same time introducing new work practices to protect workers in light of Covid-19,” OCS said in a release. Free shipping was also launched “to help make OCS.ca more accessible than ever; this matches similar offerings from the illegal market.” OCS also launched direct-to-door courier service, which now covers 63 per cent of consumers. “Capacity of this courier service has grown from 400 orders a day to almost 5,000, with efforts underway to expand further.” Canada Post has been making deliveries since marijuana was first legalized in autumn 2018. Meanwhile the OCS has lowered prices in response to “consumer feedback” on more than 240 products. “A recent offering by Pure Sunfarms of a 28gram Indica blend for $4.20 a gram is evidence that legal does not mean high cost,” the OCS says. “Consumers are choosing this product and reviewing it very positively.”

Photo: Wikipedia

Retailers: make social distancing rules obvious

WindsorOntarioNews.com April 20 2020

By Ron Stang

A peaceful outing to my local big box retailer turned into a bit of schizoid experience. On a Tuesday evening when the store was virtually empty, I sauntered in, mask on face, to pick up a few non-perishable items such as printer ink and banker boxes. But why not get a couple of grocery items? As mentioned, there were few people in the store, the staff I saw were friendly. With pop music on the speakers one could be forgiven thinking there was no coronavirus crisis. So, I took my cart and wandered down a grocery aisle. A dude wearing a mask that had the look of Darth Vader, began shouting at me. Taken unaware, I didn’t understand what he was saying. He shouted again, saying I was getting too close (I was well beyond two metres) and somehow walking the wrong way. Then I clued-in: “Oh these are one-way aisles!?” Another shriek from Darth Vader, “Yessss!” Well, excuse me, but there were no arrows on the floor indicating that. I told the dude, but he simply kept admonishing. I sauntered on and found a store clerk – who wasn’t practicing social distancing and wasn’t wearing a mask - to ask where the frozen fruit was located. He said the next aisle. So, this time, I turned around and followed the supposedly correct direction of the - unmarked - aisle. I then turned up the next aisle, which did have arrow markings on the floor. But the Darth Vader dude was ahead of me - well beyond six feet (two metres) away. When I reached into the freezer, he yelled again that I was getting too close. Apparently, my crime was that I wasn’t standing within a set of red lines on the floor, which I’d never taken notice of. Apparently, with the lines, one customer is to stay within one set of lines until the customer ahead moves from their set of lines. Ok, fine. But there were no obvious store explanations stating that. And no other customers were paying attention to them. So, a word to retailers: please make your Covid-19 social distancing rules obvious, if only in part to lessen ridiculous scolding from self-styled social vigilantes.

Tim's stops serving fake meat

WindsorOntarioNews.com Jan 29 2020

So much for fake meat. Tim Hortons has killed off the product after a nine month experiment. A visitor to an east side Tim Hortons this week, seeking a Beyond Meat breakfast sandwich, was told the chain is no longer selling the product. The product, along with other meatless meat versions at different fast food chains, was hailed with much fanfare when announced last June. “Canadians are hungry to try our breakfast sandwiches made with Beyond Meat’s 100% plant based sausage patty,” Mike Hancock, Chief Operations Officer, said. “We’ve listened to our guests and are excited to be able to offer three delicious breakfast sandwiches that vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians and meat lovers can feel good about.” The meatless concept has been praised by groups outside the restaurant industry, including vegetarians and environmentalists, for using plant-based sources instead of animals and putting less stress on the environment. Animal rights activists had named Beyond Meat company of the year. But Tim Hortons this week said the sandwiches had been introduced as a limited time offer. “We may offer Beyond Meat again in the future,” the chain said. The Washington Examiner said this is the latest blow to the much touted Beyond Meat enterprise. The Los Angeles company, whose slogan is “The Future of Protein”, has seen its stocks plunge 50 per cent since its peak last summer when the product was widely praised as the future of meat. It lost another four per cent Tuesday. According to the Examiner, Burger King has also had trouble selling its substitue meat burger, made by Impossible Foods, a Beyond Meat competitor. Only 20 such burgers were sold in a day, one franchise owner bemoaned.

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No jokes please, we're shopping for liquor

They may have spirit but, please, no joking in the liquor store. The LCBO, as an advisory to shoppers during the Covid-19 pandemic, has displayed bright orange posters with pictograms recommending how shoppers should conduct themselves in the stores while they pick up that six-pack, or bottle of Chardonnay or rye whiskey. They include “Please shop alone,” “Do not shop if you are ill or should be self-isolating,” “Practice physical distancing,” “Be kind. This is a stressful time for all of us.” And, finally, “No inappropriate jokes or behaviour, especially about Covid-19.” That had at least one person on Facebook puzzled. So WON.com contacted the LCBO's press office to ask why the nix on humour. It replied: “This messaging is included on our in-store posters as a friendly reminder to our customers to be patient and kind to our staff, security team and to each other during this stressful time.” The LCBO, deemed an essential service, has been one of the few retailers allowed to open since the health emergency began.– 9/24/20

Photo: Kris Roehler via Facebook

5G cell phone network still yet to hit Windsor

5G cell phone technology is being rolled out across more Ontario communities but not Windsor, at least yet. Rogers Communications has announced that 18 additional cities will be getting the fifth-generation technology, a vast improvement over previous generations. 5G has greater bandwidth, giving higher download speeds, eventually up to 10 gigabits per second. But the new locations are still in the general vicinity of Toronto or in Ottawa and Hamilton. Rogers first rolled out 5G in downtown Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto in January. “5G is the next technological evolution that will transform the way we live and work in Ontario,” said Philippe Oille, President of Rogers’ southwestern Ontario region. – 9/2/20

Fitness co. compares itself favorably to grocery stores

Being “Cleansiderate” and the “Clean Thumbs Club” are a couple of cutsey terms one fitness studio has employed as it gets back up and running during Covid Stage 3 protocols. Planet Fitness, which opened studios in Chatham and Windsor earlier this year, has revamped its facilities and uses the slogans as ways to keep the scene clean as top of mind. “And what other industry actually has the consumer cleaning after themselves? Not grocery stores!” the company boasts. Staff have also had Covid cleaning training. This includes a 20-minute walk around “to continually clean and sanitize high-touch areas.” To enable “Social Fitnessing” some pieces of cardio equipment have been marked temporarily out of use. Check-ins are through apps and masks for customers and staff are necessary. – 8/26/20

Drug chain rolls out family medical clinics

Windsor-Essex, traditionally with a shortage of family docs, could be a prime candidate for a new family clinic experiment being offered by Shoppers Drug Mart. Canada’s largest drug store chain is rolling out three such clinics in the Toronto area, the first opening this week. Called Health Clinic by Shoppers or just The Health Clinic the chain is introducing it in areas underserved by physicians and where patients don’t have family doctors. “We know Canadians want and need more from their primary care,” Shoppers president Jeff Leger said in a release. Asked whether such clinics might be seen soon in SW Ontario, a spokesperson said, “We are committed to getting this right for our patients and once the model is validated and refined we hope to reach more Canadians by expanding clinics to other parts of the country.” – 6/12/10

Photo: Shoppers Drug Mart

Most local greenhouse production goes for export - activist

Federal employment minister Carla Qualtrough says the $58 million announced this week for reforming agricultural migrant worker conditions will help preserve Canada’s food supply. The money comes in the wake of massive increases in Covid-19 numbers among seasonal workers. Poor employment conditions – particularly housing and cramped conditions – are blamed for the outbreaks. But an activist says it’s incorrect to conclude much or even most of the food produced goes for domestic consumption. Chris Ramsaroop of Justice for Migrant Workers, said “in your area most of that is for export production, it’s not actually for food sovereignty.” He said even the vegetable growers’ website indicates “80 to 90 per cent” is for export. Ramsaroop said it’s worth pointing out that some growers have also shifted completely from food to cannabis. “That told me that down there that the concern is not necessarily about food production or protecting the food safety or system it’s about profit – basing a busines model on profit rather than meeting the needs of the community.” – 8/5/20

UPDATE Aug 12/20: Joe Sbrocchi, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Ontario GM, disagrees. He says the majority of food produced in the province is not for export - ”a good portion of it is I wouldn’t say most,” he told WON.com. And he said what critics miss is that the industry is a “key economic driver” with 15,000 employed, about half of them Canadian workers.

Reproduced art could enhance DT streets

The Art Gallery of Windsor hopes to take its venerable art collection to the streets. The AGW is in talks with the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association to position reproductions of various artworks outside in downtown locations. AGW director Jennifer Matotek says these would be in “unexpected places” in the city centre. She said the museum also is looking at “opportunities with other partners” on how to enhance the “cultural vibrancy” of downtown Windsor. The effort would be similar to the Detroit Institute of Arts which for several years has located reproductions of its works in various communities. – 7/8/20

Not one but two Sleep Country stores opening in the Windsor area

Sleepless in Windsor? Apparently not. As an indicator of the city’s rapid growth, one of the country’s largest mattress company’s is opening not one, but two, stores here and in rapid succession. “As one of the top three fastest growing cities in Canada, Sleep Country is excited to play a role in the city's economic recovery with new job creation,” the Toronto based retailer says. The first store opens July 3 at 4450 Walker Road followed by a second store at 35 Amy Croft Drive July 9. Nodding to current Covid protocols the stores will feature enhanced health and safety. Sleep Country is also donating a “selection of bedding essentials” to the Welcome Centre Shelter for Women and Families (photo). The company has more than 260 outlets across Canada. – 7/2/20

Pandemic triggers credit union first

London-based Libro Credit Union announced its the first Canadian financial institution to offer electronic money transfers across the entire banking system – credit unions, banks and fintechs. This is through the Interac e-Transfer system. The announcement comes after a survey found that Canadians are eschewing cash payments during Covid-19. A Payments Canada survey found 62 per cent of people are spending less cash. “With digital services becoming increasingly important, Libro has continued enhancing its already-strong online service offering,” the credit union says. The study found “dramatic shifts” in spending behaviour between pre-pandemic and current spending. It found “higher use of contactless payments, electronic payments, e-commerce, online/mobile banking, and lower demand for cash.” – 5/28/20

"I need a drink" greeted news of virus outbreak

WON.com was curious as to how much of an effect the recent incursion of wine sales in grocery stores was having on traditional LCBO sales. We were also wondering the same about the effect of increasing grocery store beer sales on the traditional Beer Store's near monopoly. LCBO wrote back regarding sales primarily through the Covid-19 lockdown, about which we’d asked a secondary question. Sales across “most channels” were up “significantly” mostly between the first two weeks of the virus tsunami – March 12 to 24, a media rep said. “Sales have since returned to normal volumes.” The LCBO also saw “a significant increase in e-commerce and higher than average grocery orders and shipments.” As to our primary question - the effect on general grocery sales - the rep said no numbers will be released until audited financials. For its part, The Beer Store did not respond.– 5/12/20

Gleaners, expecting great year, shuts

Southwestern Ontario Gleaners, a Leamington based charity that packages unmarketable surplus vegetable produce and fruit into dehydrated soup mix and fruit snacks, has temporarily shut down. The volunteer run organization abruptly laid off all staff due to Covid-19. “2020 started out incredibly well,” GM Joel Epp says. “The number of volunteers was at an all-time high, production was rolling at a record pace and we were targeting over five million servings to be distributed both locally and internationally.” Production halted eight weeks ago and leftover produce was shipped to a number of charities. – 5/5/20 (UPDATE June 11: Gleaners has now reopened with safety precautions and is looking for volunteers.)

Grocery clerks have to sometimes pick up shoppers' masks

Grocery stores near universally have provided extra compensation to staff during the Covid-19 crisis. UFCW spokesman Tim Deelstra said on average there has been a “temporary boost” of $2 an hour. “There are some variations on that depending on the employer.” This includes Loblaw, Metro, Rexall as well as processors like Maple Leaf Foods and Cargill. Grocery staff's wages prior to the increase varied from minimum wage to more than $20 depending on classification and seniority. Deelstra said one of the biggest problems for store clerks is customers. “More often than we would like people are leaving their own personal protective equipment behind in grocery carts or on the ground leaving it for our members to pick up,” he said. As for clerks sometimes not wearing masks, Deelstra said the union encourages PPE. But health authorities have changed their message, “where the initial advice was that it wasn’t necessary” to today where wearing masks is “a good idea.” - 23/4/20

Art Van to honor deliveries to Canada

Art Van Furniture, the once very successful Detroit-based furniture chain, will complete deliveries to its Canadian customers. A spokeswoman said the chain, which is to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is “completing deliveries to our Canadian customers. We are not taking any more orders. There is a bunch going out this week and then a final truck going out toward end of March. So we will fulfill all current Canadian orders.” The once vaunted family owned chain, chief sponsor of Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day parade, with 190 stores in several midwestern states, was sold to Boston-based private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners in 2017 after founder Art Van Elslander died. All Art Van stores are to close in 60 days. The familiar brown Art Van trucks had been seen on local streets in recent years after the company expanded delivery service to Canada. – 3/9/20

"Uptown" name finally is starting to sink in

It’s taken three years to sink in but people are finally starting to refer to Ottawa Street as “Uptown.” The commercial street’s BIA director Ettore Bonato, owner of Ettore Salon and Aesthetics, said the BIA decided to change the name to “Uptown Ottawa Street” to differentiate from downtown and other BIAs. The name is also a throwback to the way people used to refer to the street. “A long time ago, people went downtown or uptown and Ottawa Street was known as Uptown,” he said. There were department and clothing stores among many well-known retailers of the era. “This was a place where people went shopping before the mall,” which opened in 1970, he said. An updated sign was installed three years ago. But the new designation “is just getting out (to people) now.” – 2/24/20

Image: BIA facebook page