“My bills didn’t stop”: Second lockdown taking toll

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by Vance Gutzman

You could say Agatha Lussier and Madelaine Madigan are a microcosm of the plight facing so many businesses across Ontario right now, as they’re struggling to come to grips with the definition of the word “essential.”

And just plain struggling.

Lussier is the owner of Figaro’s Hair Stylists, a long-time fixture in downtown Deep River. Madelaine is her sister and fellow stylist.

When the province-wide shutdown went into effect December 26, it marked the second time in less than a year that Figaro’s was forced to close its doors, having been deemed a non-essential business by the provincial government.

The hair salon had previously been closed for three months in 2020, from the middle of March until June 13 when the provincial government declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first go-around they were eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which will of course be considered taxable income when they file their 2020 taxes.

“It wasn’t enough,” Lussier said in an interview with the NRT on Saturday.

“My bills didn’t stop. Covid didn’t stop Hydro. Covid didn’t stop Bell. I had to cut down on every luxury I worked hard for and should be able to enjoy.

“I’ve been a successful business owner for a decade. I do everything I’m supposed to do and I can’t even pay my bills.”

This second-go around of the business being shuttered Lussier is again eligible for the CERB, but, even though she was forced to close her doors on Boxing Day, she wasn’t able to file her application for that assistance until January 18, and has since received a whopping $900 while she keeps watching the bills come in.

Madigan is not eligible for the CERB this time around, and has had to apply for Employment Insurance instead, and has received $450 to date from that avenue.

That’s not even enough to cover her overdraft, let alone buy groceries for her children.

“We literally can’t afford to feed our kids,” Madigan says.

With no definitive date in sight as to when she’ll be allowed to re-open, Lussier recalled the difficulties she faced last June when she was able to resume cutting and styling hair after the provincially-imposed three-month hiatus.

“I had to figure out a whole new way to run my business,” Lussier said, noting that, with walk-in customers being prohibited, her business revenue dropped by “at least 50 percent, and that’s being generous.”

“I need to secure my future, my family’s future and my employees’ future,” said Lussier.

“I’ll do whatever I can to make sure these girls have a job. They worked for this. I worked for this.”

On top of worrying about how she’s going to pay all her bills, Lussier was also dreading the thought of what will happen on Monday, when her husband goes back to work and her kids go back to school.

“I get to sit at home and stare at four walls alone because I’m not ‘essential’,” she said.

“What about my kids? They think I’m essential,” Madigan chimes in, echoing her sister’s sentiment.

“There’s so many things my kids are going without.”

“We are essential,” said Lussier.

“We’ve been there for all your firsts. We’ve laughed with clients. We’ve cried with clients. When you look good, you feel good. It’s your mental health, too, isn’t that essential?”

Madigan notes as well that there are some people, be they in the military or suffering from medical conditions, for whom haircuts are essential, let alone for people living alone and feeling isolated.

“This is their only communication with the outside world, getting a haircut,” she says.

The sisters aren’t just suffering financially from being forced to close their doors. The closure has also taken a significant toll on their mental well-being.

“I cast a pretty big friggin’ light,” says Madigan.

“I can feel it every day starting to dim.”

Yet, somehow, someway they remain determined.

“This is my passion. This is what I worked for. This is what I sacrificed for,” Lussier said of her business.

“I’m not changing my profession because of somebody saying I’m not essential. They’re not going to beat me. I’m not changing what I love to do.”

“My kids rely on me. I’m essential to them.”

(First published in the NRT January 27, 2021.)

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