On a Tuesday afternoon in March, at a time when Tony Siciliano’s garage was normally filled with cars requiring oil changes and summer tires installed, the store was nearly empty. Siciliano is not yet sure he can keep his garage open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Right now we’re not doing anything,” said Siciliano, owner of Master Mechanic Yorkdale in Toronto. “Since the middle of last week, it looked like someone had just turned off the switch, turned off the lights.”
He’s already had to fire one of his two mechanics, and he’s trying to decide whether he should fire the other as well.
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No matter where you live and work, it is likely that your workplace has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Many businesses have closed, either voluntarily or under provincial bans on non-essential services, and these closings and layoffs have affected hundreds of thousands of people.
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Across the country, garages, mechanics and parts suppliers are feeling the impact of the pandemic as customers cancel appointments and new regulations to stop the spread of the virus force some operations to close.
According to JF Champagne, president of the Automobile Industries Association of Canada, regulations vary by province and change rapidly, so there is some confusion as to whether garages can in fact stay open and where to go. what a title, according to JF Champagne, president of the Automobile Industries Association of Canada. Its members include Canadian Tire and NAPA Auto Parts stores.
“One of the concerns expressed by the business community is the lack of harmonization of these definitions of what is considered an essential service,” he said. The automotive aftermarket industry – which includes garages, collision repair centers, parts manufacturers, retailers and distributors – employs 400,000 people in Canada, he added.
In Ontario, the regulations are clear. “Motor vehicles, auto supply, auto and motor vehicle repair” are listed as essential workplaces and are therefore allowed to remain open. Car and truck dealers are also on the list.
What do British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec consider to be “essential” businesses in a coronavirus pandemic? Lists to date
“Quebec has not provided the same level of clarity,” said Champagne. “We’re still trying to get answers.” For now, he said, garages and parts suppliers in Quebec have reduced their retail sales and are focusing on providing front-line workers with essential parts and services for their vehicles.
The regulations in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are similar to those in Ontario, he explained. In Newfoundland, he understood that only auto repairs were considered essential and not parts suppliers. Since garages do not keep all parts for every car in stock, this could make some repairs impossible. Some provinces have not been as active as others, he added. At this point, British Columbia has not ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses.
“The secondary market is often an afterthought,” said Champagne. There are approximately 26 million vehicles on the roads in Canada. Not all of them are essential right now, he acknowledged, but many of them are.
Some jurisdictions rely on the aftermarket industry to service government vehicles, natural resource vehicles, some fire and RCMP vehicles, some ambulances as well as some telecommunications service vehicles, he explained.
If the provinces all come to an agreement on what constitutes an essential service, it may still not make financial sense for these aftermarket businesses to stay open.
In the aftermarket industry parts distribution sector, Champagne had heard that layoffs could represent 15 to 35 percent of the total workforce. The approximately 400 body shops in Quebec have also closed their doors, he noted.
At Merson Automotive in Montreal, garage manager Charly Benoit said earlier this week that many appointments have already been canceled. “We are probably losing 60% of the business we should be having at this time of year,” he said on Monday. Later today, Merson Automotive closed and will not reopen until April 13, according to its Facebook page.
“It’s going to be the first time I’ve been laid off, right now,” said Benoit, who has worked in the family garage for 28 years. “It’s nobody’s fault other than this virus.”
Master Mechanic, who owns 39 franchised garages in southern Ontario, including Tony Siciliano’s, advised customers to call ahead to arrange maintenance for their vehicles. Additional social distancing and disinfection measures are in place.
Even during the massive blackout that interrupted much of Ontario and parts of the United States in 2003, Siciliano – who opened his first auto repair shop in 1979 – managed to keep his garage open. . On Wednesday he called a few other stores to see what they were doing and found most of them were already closed. “I’m still treating him,” he said over the phone from his quiet garage.
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