Fyonna Vanderwerf’s message to Muskoka’s politicians: you can do more to re-open Muskoka.

She opened Hive Muskoka in August. It’s a gym located in Bracebridge. Vanderwerf posted a video on Facebook over the weekend calling for small businesses in the area to reach out to their elected officials and ask what they’re doing to re-open Muskoka. “The message that I’ve been trying to get out to people is that you need to advocate,” she explains. “You need to open conversations with our elected officials.”

“What are you doing to re-open Muskoka,” she asked of local politicians in the video.

When Vanderwerf opened her business towards the end of the summer, she said she knew there would be a second lockdown. “But at the same time I don’t think people’s questions are being answered,” she adds. She says that people have grown weary of asking why this is all happening. “People are just shutting down,” she says. 

Since posting the video, it’s gotten upwards of 6,000 views and Vanderwerf says it’s caused other businesses to reach out to her to tell them their stories. “They say they’ve been in the community for 15 to 20 years and I have to shut my doors,” she explains. Others tell her they don’t feel supported. Vanderwerf says it’s frustrating seeing big box stores keeping their doors wide open, while small businesses are forced to close and – in some cases – go out of business because they aren’t able to adapt. 

Mayor of Bracebridge Graydon Smith says he thought the video was “raw and honest.”

Since posting it, Vanderwerf set-up a meeting with Smith, Bracebridge’s Deputy Mayor Rick Maloney and other local businesses to go into detail about their stories. “It underlines the need for small businesses to have an opportunity to survive and many of them don’t have that opportunity,” Smith says. 

Smith says he’s heard from businesses how frustrated they are that they’re forced to close, but big box stores don’t face the same pressure. “That’s where the frustration comes in,” he says. “They see other businesses that are open – specifically large box stores – that don’t have that level of control and can never have that level of control.” Smith believes if this continues and small businesses don’t get the same support from the higher levels of government, we’re going to lose many of them.

The MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom reached out to Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller for a comment but he was unavailable. 

“I get people contacting me all the time saying you should do this, you should do that, but hey, I would if I could but I can’t,” Smith says. With Ontario in a provincially mandated lockdown, he says it’s in Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet’s hands to make changes. 

“The best I can do is be an advocate for those voices in the community that are reaching out for help,” Smith says. He’s already written to the Premier about the issue and plans to again in hopes that he can get more support for small businesses.

Going forward, Vanderwerf wants small businesses to have a bigger seat at the table when decisions are made. “My video was not perfect,” she says. “It was not scripted and I think that’s why it’s resonating with people.”