Billings businesses provide positive news on customer traffic, despite the pandemic

KAGAWONG – A few businesses in Billings township have reported doing alright, if not better, during the pandemic.

“Al, I’m really happy for you,” stated Billings Mayor Ian Anderson at a special meeting council had with businesses last week. “There are a lot of unknowns with COVID-19 and predictions of businesses in dire consequence—this was the case for some I’m sure. But your report is encouraging and similar to others I’ve talked to that have been pleasantly surprised at how things have worked out. It is wonderful to see things as having been as positive as they have been.” 

Al Douglas, of Hideaway Lodge, told the meeting that even with the pandemic this year, “things have been good at the lodge. At the beginning of the season and into March things were down a lot, but over the course of the summer we received a lot of inquiries from people interested in shorter term stays that made it easy to fill (the lodge) at levels we were comfortable with. The total numbers (of customers) are down but this was by design so we could comfortably accommodate them. We were pleased with the level of patience we heard.”

“In a summer like this, people seem to take extra enjoyment in travelling to another location fairly close by,” said Mr. Douglas. “And going forward we have received reservations and inquiries from customers for next year. Many customers who didn’t come this year will be coming back next year. We are still trying to understand how this is all going to play out but everything seems to be running smoothly.”

“Thank you to all the businesses here tonight for participating in this meeting,” said Billings councillor Bryan Barker, “and to allow council to get a feel for what is happening locally. I’m glad to hear some are catching up from a slow spring.

“Thank you to the three businesses that have attended,” said Todd Gordon, Billings economic development officer. “We wanted to invite businesses to see how you are doing this year (with COVID-19).”

Keith McKeen of SEC Graphics and Manitoulin Chocolate Works (MCW) told the meeting, “I don’t have a lot to say about SEC, we are open 12 months a year and it has been a little bit of a struggle and the shutdown did affect us at first.” He pointed MCW “has done quite well.” There has been a limit on how many customers can be in the store at one time, but the store has been pretty well full with people lined up outside to get in. His wife Louise operates the store, “and after we figured out there was a lot more tourists around than normal, we got product ready. From the point of 160 Main Street businesses we did fine.”

“In my business (health field research) we don’t rely on tourism traffic,” said Susan Snelling. “My work includes COVID-19 research. In terms of the business environment in Billings it needs to be said that improved internet and broadband service continues to be important.” 

“I’ve heard from a couple of people thinking seriously about moving here from the city. Over time we may see more people moving here permanently. I suspect the need for reliable broadband will continue to grow. I know there are some initiatives being explored and I would encourage the township to keep an eye on ways to improve the service, with so many people working or for school work, at home.”

“Absolutely,” supplied Mr. Gordon.

“First of all I can support the observations of folks leaving cities and coming to Manitoulin. I have heard the same,” said Mayor Anderson. “At  our regular meeting Tuesday of First Nations and municipalities on the Island the topic of broadband came up again. Everyone is on board to see improved service.”

Mayor Anderson explained that Vianet recently installed a new tower in Billings on the 10th concession which will improve internet services for many local people in that area, as well as in M’Chigeeng First Nation and Honora Bay.
“We don’t have as many businesses represented tonight as we had hoped for, which is a little disappointing,” said Mr. Gordon. But he noted the meeting allowed for a chance to gauge those businesses on hand for how they are feeling nearing the end of 2020 and starting 2021. “From a municipality perspective, I would imagine the township has probably learned a lot through COVID-19 in terms of communications, transportation and moving people around communities.”

Councillor Barker pointed out, “as a result of COVID-19 here has been a couple of Island-wide committees formed among local municipalities and First Nations that deal with all issues, including COVID-19. There is a common thread that everyone recognizes the value of working together Island-wide as a community. I think these meetings will continue; we recognize the need to continue to work together.”  

“I support what Bryan has said,” said Mayor Anderson. “These committees have been really good for Manitoulin. Everyone understands and has common problems. It has been extremely positive and will continue past the pandemic. COVID-19 demonstrated the need to get things done collectively and with each others support.”                     

“I wish we knew what the future holds,” said Ms. Snelling. “We do need as communities to carry on with things as much as we can as normal as possible.”

“Again thank you to Keith, Al and Sue for your participation,” said Mayor Anderson. “Your input is invaluable. We appreciate your participation and input. I can say in closing that along with your positive reports tonight two other businesses I spoke to recently have said August and September were two of the busiest months they have had by far, since they opened. Thanks again, it was great having you here this evening.”