The owner of a Vankleek Hill beauty salon who has defied the Ontario shutdown by opening her business says her decision was a matter of survival and she is taking a stand on behalf of small business owners across the province.

“I don’t want people to think that it’s because I don’t care about other people, or I don’t care about what’s happened or the people who’ve passed,” emphasized Kaitlynn Rapatsouleas, owner of Beauty on High. “It’s not that I don’t believe in what’s happening, it’s just that some people’s bills are essential, my children are essential.”

Rapatsouleas opened her salon on High Street in October of 2020, just as cases in Ontario began to rise again, forcing a second province-wide shutdown for businesses after Christmas.

“Everyone was telling me I was crazy to be opening during a lockdown,” she noted. “But I chose to take that gamble for my family and my kids – to take the last bit of my savings and open my business that I’ve been working towards for quite some time.”

Hearts broken by Ford

Beauty on High closed after Christmas to comply with the provincial lockdown, reopening in February as COVID-19 caseloads dropped in Ontario and rules were relaxed to allow businesses to serve their customers. Even as the third wave began to grip the province, Rapatsouleas remained optimistic that small businesses would be allowed to remain open with appropriate safety measures in place.

“Then at the last minute Doug Ford changed his mind and broke the hearts of every small little personal care service and restaurant and gym,” the owner of Beauty on High commented. “There was a new colour code that (we) were not allowed to operate in, but all other businesses are allowed to operate.”

“It wasn’t fair at all. I was sitting here crying on the phone to my mom, not knowing how I was going to pay my bills,” said Rapatsouleas, breaking down momentarily. “We haven’t had very much luck this winter with the lockdowns and everything. My car isn’t doing the best. My husband’s trying to get back and forth to work to try to support us, but now I have my shop bills. It’s really hard to balance both on one income.”

The small business owner said her decision to reopen Beauty On High was sparked after she came across a video on the website We Are All Essential. The video, she said, introduced her to a community of small business owners across the country, who are fighting for the right to stay open.

“There are hundreds of businesses which have shut down and will never reopen and I decided that this won’t be (my story),” Rapatsouleas said. “I’ve worked so hard towards this business to provide for my family that I’m not taking chances – I’m not going to lose this.”

Appointments spaced out

Beauty On High was visited by bylaw and OPP officers on April 13, but no action was taken. The salon was open again on Wednesday, but its owner explains it is not open for its normal hours, but by appointment only.

“I try to limit my days and I do my appointments very spaced out – sometimes I’ll have one appointment a day and then I don’t have one for two or three days. It’s very random, but I am taking appointments and I still am open.”

Rapatsouleas said she believes the Ford government has taken the wrong route during the COVID-19 pandemic, penalizing small business owners who are complying with the rules, while allowing big box stores and malls to stay open.

“We have thousands of less cases that are produced from our services versus schools, versus malls, versus big-box stores. Yet we’re the ones they have chosen to close down.”

Reached on Monday, April 19, after stricter Ontario COVID-19 regulations were announced, Rapatsouleas said she would continue to serve her clients despite the new stay-at-home order.

“Unfortunately, my personal situation has not changed. I still must do what I must to provide for my family.” The owner of Beauty On High wrote. “I’ve even begun not accepting clients who have had the vaccines within the last four weeks, as it has been proven that there is a time where the live virus is potentially shed.”

“This is in no way discriminating against people who have gotten their vaccines. Just more safety measures to ensure the safety of everyone.”