Strathroy, Ont. spa owner defies lockdown, remains open

By: Jessica Swietoniowski

Ontario has recently entered its third lockdown due to COVID-19 and Premier Doug Ford has pushed for stricter rules and police enforcement in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. 

While once claiming to be the champion of small businesses and entrepreneurs, Ford has forced many businesses to shut down. 

However, not all business owners in Ontario are sitting back and allowing heavy-handed government decisions ruin their livelihoods. 

One of these business owners is Amanda Kenney, who has decided to defy Ontario’s orders and is keeping her spa open.

Kenney, a single mother of two, has been in the industry for 20 years and has owned and operated Skin Sense Spa in Strathroy, Ontario for 10 years.

Ironically, the day the Ontario government announced its Stay-at-Home Order on April 8th was actually her business’ 10-year-anniversary.

While Kenney qualified for some of the governments’ subsidy programs, she was still forced to shut down her business. She tried her best to stay afloat by selling hair and facial products by curbside or delivery.

“I don’t sell enough shampoo to pay the bills, let alone pay someone to sit here to sell it,” Kenney explains.

The Strathroy business owner decided enough was enough. She finally put her foot down. 

“Lockdowns haven’t been working… I know this isn’t going to be the last one,” Kenney explained.  

Despite the fact that the Ontario government does not consider personal care to be  essential, Kenney says her business provides many essential services. 

“I have diabetics, I maintain their feet before they get bad.. or if they have issues but can’t feel them because they have neuropathy… I tell them they need to get this looked at by a doctor,” Kenney explains.

Kenney had two clients recently with horribly overgrown nail extensions, which have become painful for them. One woman even had two of her own nails ripped off because they were not maintained professionally.

When Kenney started becoming more public about opening her spa, an anonymous report was made to the police. 

Police in Ontario have been given the greenlight by the government to crack down on citizens and businesses for breaking lockdown orders. Kenney, her staff and her clients claim they have all been intimidated by the police in recent weeks.

Friday, April 9th was the first visit from the police. 

An officer from the Strathroy-Caradoc Police Service visited the spa to make sure she was only operating curbside, as permitted by the province’s rules. But Kenney didn’t back down and explained to the officer that she was letting clients into her spa and providing what she deemed to be essential services. 

No fines were given but it wasn’t the last time police would pay her a visit.

The next day, police came back.

“I got scared. I had police right outside my building, they spent four and a half hours sitting outside and driving around my block,” Kenney explains.

On the morning of Monday April 12th, a police officer and health inspector came to the spa but Kenney was not in and they left her a message telling her she is allowed to sell products but cannot provide any services.

Their message had the intended effect, as Kenney’s staff of three and the five estheticians and hairstylists that rent space from her decided to stop working. 

But the determined business owner didn’t stop there. She reached out to police proactively and tried to find a way to stay open while adhering to their rules.

“I don’t want to break the law… I do respect our police force,” Kenney says.

Although Kenney is qualified and trained to maintain a clean and safe work environment, she was told she cannot provide services because she is not a licenced healthcare professional. 

She invited the health inspector to come in and inspect her spa to demonstrate that her facility is clean and that she’s keeping people safe, but the health inspector refused.

True North reached out to the health inspector’s office and got a response from the Communications Manager stating that, “Health Unit’s Public Health Inspectors are not currently conducting inspections at Personal Care Service Establishments, such as Skin Sense Spa, because these businesses are not allowed to be open at this time.”

Kenney has been hesitant on how operational her spa should be, but on Friday, April 16th, she had her first fully booked day since over a year with no issues with police.

Since she has been vocal about being open, she has been amazed by the support she has received from her community. She’s been getting new clients and people walking in to tell her how proud they are that she is staying open.

When speaking with the police, they told her if they let her stay open then other businesses will want to open up as well and she said, “Exactly, that’s what I want.”

Although she has papered up all her windows, locked her doors and is limiting her services, she hopes this will encourage other small businesses to re-open safely. 

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