Durham business owners concerned over future of indoor family playgrounds

As the province continues to work on its plans for Phase 2 of reopening during the novel coronavirus pandemic, businesses that are not scheduled to reopen any time soon are pleading for help.

Among those companies are indoor family entertainment centres.

It’s always been Katie MacKinnon’s dream to one day own Kids Zone Whitby.

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“When I worked here for my first job, when was 16, I fell in love with this place,” she said.

Last year, MacKinnon and her husband made that dream become a reality. But like almost all businesses, the couple wasn’t planning for a pandemic.

“With our extra money, we were putting it back into the business, we were helping the community, those in need, women’s shelters,” MacKinnon said.

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“Now, we’ve got our house on the line.”

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MacKinnon says the federal government’s current commercial rent relief and wage subsidy programs simply aren’t enough to keep her business going, especially with monthly rent at a cost of more than $10,000.

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A similar cry of uncertainty comes from Gord Gill, who owns Joey’s world in Bowmanville, Ont.

“We’re just a family business,” Gill said. “It’s hard.”

Gill says even if his business is able to eventually survive and reopen, things will never be the same.

“Realistically, we have three kids of our own and those are the questions that we’ve asked ourselves, is ‘a) is it safe? but also is it safe for my own children to be here?’”

Indoor family entertainment centres are a part of a group of businesses that will be among the last to reopen. Once meant to be a place for kids to have fun, owners fear safety concerns could make playtime a thing of the past.

Bin Chang with Ontario Tech’s Faculty of Business and Information Technology says if these businesses are able to reopen, their revenue could go down as companies will be forced to adhere to physical distancing measures.

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“For example, they have to limit the number of kids in the room.”

With lower revenues, Chang says it could be more difficult for businesses to cover their rent.

“They still have to rent such big spaces. They cannot adjust easily.”

Chang says businesses in a similar position include dance studios, piano schools and other companies that depend on groups of people.

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