“I’ve been in business for 32 years, and 2020 was the busiest year we’ve ever had”

“I’ve been in business for 32 years, and 2020 was the busiest year we’ve ever had”

Early in the pandemic, cottage country businesses were worried, but with Torontonians flocking north, business has been bonkers

What: Cottage Cravings
Where: Bala
Who: Randy Brown, co-owner

“We’re a gift shop and café with dine-in and outdoor seating. There were some tough times early on in the pandemic, but when the province allowed outdoor dining again last June, the floodgates opened. I expected a drop-off in business with kids going back to school, but our sales were so much higher than previous years. Our November sales were up 85 per cent compared to the previous November. We were so busy we needed to hire a few new people, bringing us to eight. This past March, the 500-square-foot unit next to ours became available. We decided to take it on and launch a casual cottage clothing company called Lake Wear Muskoka. If I was selling three-piece suits and tuxedos right now, I think I’d be worried. But people are up here year-round, and they want to be comfortable, so we think it will be a hit.”


What: Cottage Toys
Where: Lakefield
Who: Donna Rork, co-owner

“I’ve been in business for 32 years, and 2020 was the busiest year we’ve ever had. That was completely unexpected because when things first shut down, we thought we might lose our business. In April, we had zero sales. We put our orders on hold because we didn’t know what was going to happen. Some of our staff decided to stay home with their children, and we laid off two other employees who ended up getting jobs at grocery stores. It felt like we were circling the drain. When we finally opened after the May long weekend, it was like a tidal wave hit us. Customers were lining up at our door. We hired new staff but didn’t have time to properly train them. The biggest increase we’ve seen is in stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and water sports in general—we recently got an order of 30 kayaks, and more than half of them were gone in one day. Our website is just going bananas.”


What: The Barn Chefs
Where: Coe Hill
Who: Sarah Woods, co-owner

“My husband, Luca, and I produce hundreds of items in-house: Italian meats, artisanal breads, chocolate, gelato and more. In March 2020, around the time we usually open our doors for the season, we were pretty scared about the pandemic and what it might mean for our business. We didn’t know what to do. But I’ve lived in seven countries, and I’ve always been adaptable. We started offering curbside, and in April, we started to get really busy, which was strange, because business doesn’t usually pick up until the May long weekend. Before the pandemic, most of our customers would come up for weekends during the summer, but many of them stayed full time last year. That’s been really beneficial for our business. We saw a 20 per cent increase in sales last year. We started making more comfort food, because people wanted comfort during the pandemic, and we sold more pastries and ready-made meals because everyone was stuck at home. When it got nice out, I turned our store into an outdoor market, and we recently added a covered patio so we’ll be ready for the summer season.”


What: Buckeye Marine
Where: Bobcaygeon
Who: Jeff MacKay, general manager

“When the pandemic hit, we were worried. We didn’t expect people to want to spend money on luxuries like water vehicles. But I totally got that one wrong. Sometime last June, business lit up and never really stopped. I guess people couldn’t travel so they were staying at their cottages. So what could they do? Boating was the perfect thing. It didn’t matter what kind of boat it was—someone wanted it. We cleaned up a lot of inventory left over from previous years. We’re already sold out for 2021. Our whole industry is in the same situation. The manufacturers can’t keep up, and we have to pass along the bad news. Customers get disappointed and frustrated, but when I explain the situation, most of them get it. More than a year into this pandemic, people are starting to get used to hearing no.”