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First Person: Small Business Owner Viive Tork-Hiis

August 10 2020
City: 
Toronto

Viive Tork-Hiis is well known in the Estonian community in Toronto, and a perennial favourite in the Rahvajõulupuu Marketplace with her unique items of giftware, jewelry and altogether fun stuff. As VII Designs, a small retail store on the Danforth, she was forced to stay closed during the pandemic lockdown - like so many other retailers. Too small to benefit from any of the government relief programs and with Covid restrictions lasting months and potentially recurring, it didn't take long for Viive to see the writing on the wall.

"Being on the Board of the Danforth Mosaic BIA for many years I was actively involved and aware of government initiatives and worked to build up the business strip - many Main Street mom and pop shops are hanging on emotion just now in these very uncertain times. But emotion does not pay the rent," Viive told EFC. "My monthly running expenses alone (over and above rent) have added up thousand by thousand. Government programs to offer loans only add to the debt load. For businesses my size, that's not a ‘recovery plan’ - how will anyone pay this back?  I really hope others survive, but I feel it’s a time for ‘hunkering down’ just now and not for sinking into more and more debt." 

Considering her future in the business she loves, Viive has decided to take a fiscally conservative approach. Forgoing government loan programs tied to supporting continuing operations, Viive evaluated the challenges ahead - including the looming spectre of a possible second wave - and has decided to close the doors on her bricks-and-mortar store and transition her business to an online shop.

"I really miss and grieve for my store and my customers and what I had built up. But people are not ready to flock back to restaurants and stores. Many feel it’s too early, too risky. And behaviour is changing - more and more business is happening online," Viive confessed.

Constant change and the necessity of adapting to new challenges is part of the daily job for any small business owner. No doubt pivoting to the world of online retail will also entail a steep learning curve and bumps in the road, but for now Viive sees it as the only option for longer term survival. It will take a bit of time for her to get set up on her new platform, but no doubt our whole community is looking forward to perusing what Viive has to offer - now from the comfort of our own living rooms.

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The Estonian Foundation of Canada is a registered charity that supports Estonian cultural and heritage initiatives across Canada.

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