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Disney will lay off 28,000 theme parks workers due to coronavirus pandemic –



Squeezed by attendance limits at its theme parks and other restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Walt Disney Co. said Tuesday it planned to lay off 28,000 workers in its parks division in California and Florida.

Two-thirds of the planned layoffs involve part-time workers but they ranged from salaried employees to non-union hourly workers, Disney officials said.

Disney’s parks closed last spring as the pandemic started spreading in the U.S. The Florida parks reopened this summer, but the California parks have yet to reopen as the company awaits guidance from the state of California.

In a letter to employees, Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experience and Product, said his management team had worked hard to try to avoid layoffs.

He said they had cut expenses, suspended projects and modified operations, but it wasn’t enough given limits on the number of people allowed into the park because of pandemic-related measures.

“As heartbreaking as it is to take this action, this is the only feasible option we have in light of the prolonged impact of COVID-19 on our business,” he said, “including limited capacity due to physical distancing requirements and the continued uncertainty regarding the duration of the pandemic.”

Disney officials said the company would provide severance packages for the employees where appropriate, and also offer other services to help workers with job placement.

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Banking barriers: How the Canadian financial sector excludes Black entrepreneurs, stifling innovation –



As the owner of a beauty shop catering to Black hair, Nichola Lorimer is used to explaining her business to people who are unfamiliar with the products and services she offers.

But when the 37-year-old Edmonton entrepreneur, who goes by NiLo, inquired about a commercial mortgage, she didn’t expect the conversation would fixate on a derogatory racial term.

“I was explaining the type of business that I do, that it’s a niche market, that I work with natural hair only. He asked if this is a ‘nappy hair’ business specifically,” she said when recalling her phone conversation with the bank representative.

“‘Is this like a business for nappy girls? Like nappy hair girls?’ I was stunned.” 

The term was used historically to describe the tightly coiled texture of Black hair and was often associated with derogatory caricatures and portrayals of Black natural hair.

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Lorimer said she tried to explain why the term was offensive, but the bank employee did not apologize and then ended the conversation. 

After she filed a complaint, the bank reviewed a recording of the phone call and issued a letter of apology, which CBC News has seen, and wrote the incident did not represent the financial institution’s philosophy. But the damage was already done.

I think there’s a banking industry that may have been built around a more homogeneous, likely white society.– Nichola Lorimer, Edmonton-based entrepreneur

Lorimer said she felt the bank fundamentally didn’t understand her business case nor did it care to.

The entrepreneur said the bank did not focus on the shop’s real estate.

“I think that it’s reflective of a lack of policy,” she told CBC Radio’s Cost of Living. “I think there’s a banking industry that may have been built around a more homogeneous, likely white society.”

Lorimer ended up postponing her plan for a mortgage. 

Black-owned businesses face ‘rudeness and bias’

Poor customer service and cultural insensitivity are common barriers facing Black entrepreneurs who turn to commercial banks for financing, said Caroline Shenaz Hossein, associate professor of business and society at York University in Toronto. 

“It is just so perplexing the level of rudeness and bias that is occurring against people for simply wanting to get their projects funded,” said Hossein, whose research includes financial exclusion.

“It’s kind of an interrogation of questions that really does make them feel badly or feel that the kinds of business they are doing are not worthy of financing.” 

Caroline Shenaz Hossein, associate professor of business and society at York University, says many Black entrepreneurs are turning to alternative forms of financing due to negative experiences at commercial banks. (Submitted by Caroline Shenaz Hossein)

Barriers to financing

While some financing barriers are cultural, others are physical.

A 2010 geographic analysis of banks in Winnipeg, Toronto and Vancouver revealed that although commercial banks are abundant in affluent neighbourhoods, they’re much scarcer and sometimes absent in low-income neighbourhoods with high concentrations of racially diverse residents.

In 2015, when asked how the City of Toronto can support Black-owned businesses, around half of Black respondents identified “accessing financing” as the top issue.

The problem was also flagged in an earlier study published in 2001, which found Blacks in Toronto were more likely to start their own businesses due to racism in the workplace.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, met with Black entrepreneurs while unveiling plans on Sept. 9 to provide greater support for their businesses. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

New federal loan program

The federal government has acknowledged these systemic barriers. In early September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Ottawa would partner with eight major financial institutions to introduce a $221-million loan program aimed at helping Black entrepreneurs.

Participating lenders include RBC, BMO, Scotiabank, CIBC, National Bank, TD, Vancity and Alterna Savings. Together, those institutions committed to contributing more than half of the money to set up the new Black business loan fund.

While Hossein applauded this effort, she said she’s concerned the program won’t address the existing culture within banks that perpetuates financial exclusion.

“How are [the banks] going to be reformed by … coming together [with the government] to provide more money?” said Hossein.

She called it a temporary measure to “satisfy or appease the Black community” by offering loans at market rates.

A more holistic approach, according to advocacy groups such as Democracy Watch, would be for banks to track and publicly disclose their loan data based on gender, race and income, in order to better reflect the communities they serve. 

Several banks, including RBCand BMO, have acknowledged the problem and announced steps they’ve taken to address it, including more inclusive hiring practices and funding for programs such as legal defence initiatives and community building. 

Liberal MP Greg Fergus said officials are working on how a program to help Black entrepreneurs will work. (Patrick Louiseize/CBC)

Dozens of Black-owned businesses contacted by The Cost of Living said they would like to find out more about the latest federal program.

Liberal MP Greg Fergus, who chairs the Parliamentary Black Caucus, said he expects the loans to start flowing during the first quarter of 2021.

“What happens now is that the officials go back and start working [on] how do they involve Black entrepreneurs, business owners, Black-led organizations to design the program,” he said.

Passing as white and getting ‘dealt with in a different way’

Black business owner Tanya Reddick said she’ll conduct business on the phone as much as possible to avoid interacting with bank employees in person until alternatives such as the federal funding are available.

Reddick, who runs a burrito stand at the Halifax Forum Farmers’ Market, said she gets better customer service when the representative on the other end thinks she’s white — an error that she said representatives often make over the phone.

Tanya Reddick, left, co-owns a food business in Halifax and is trying to secure a loan to buy a food truck, but she’s not impressed with the response from banks. (Submitted by Tanya Reddick)

“I sound as though I’m white,” said 46-year-old Reddick, who is a descendant of Africville residents, a displaced community in Halifax with roots tracing back centuries to Black Loyalists and former slaves. 

“When you sound that way, [then] you show up at the bank, literally the smile comes off a person’s face, and you get dealt with in a different way.”

Ben Kisimolo had a similar experience in Calgary recently when he showed up in person after booking a business loan application appointment with a major financial institution.

Ben Kisimolo runs a music and apparel startup in Calgary and said people online or on the phone often assume he’s white because he owns a business. (Submitted by Ben Kisimolo)

“She was happy when I talked to her on the phone. I can hear she was happy and excited to go through the process,” recalled the 26-year-old, who runs a music and apparel startup in Alberta. “And then I got there. She said, ‘Oh, are you Ben?’ Yep, it’s me.’

“Her vibe completely changed. I knew already I wasn’t going to get anything. And for sure, I was right.” 

Many people think the business is owned by a white person. They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re a Black person who’s 26? You cannot be doing something like this.’– Ben Kisimolo, Calgary-based business owner

Kisimolo, who was born in Congo and raised in Montreal, said people in Western Canada often misidentify his accent as French Canadian over the phone. 

“Many people think the business is owned by a white person,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re a Black person who’s 26? You cannot be doing something like this.'”

Hiring ‘white fixer’ to get ahead

Recently, Reddick started networking with other Black-owned businesses in Nova Scotia and said one solution she’s heard repeatedly is the idea of a “white fixer.”

The practice involves hiring a white person to conduct business on behalf of and represent the Black entrepreneur. 

“They’ll hire white lawyers, or they’ll have other representatives within their company that are white and they’ll send them to basically close the deal,” said Reddick.

“This is what we have to do to get ahead.”

Charline Grant, right, runs a basketball academy in York Region, Ont., and recently started the Banking While Black podcast to shed light on systemic racism in Canada’s banking sector. (Submitted by Charline Grant)

For Charline Grant, 46, any trip to the bank turns lengthy with numerous lines of questioning and multiple ID verifications.

“I already know my account is going to be flagged. All my cheques are going to be held for the next six months. I’m only going to be allowed to withdraw $500 cash per day,” said Grant. 

“They’re not used to seeing me, a Black person like myself coming into a bank with a complex banking issue and complex business issue. Because that’s not the narrative that’s told about us. Therefore, I must be wrong, and they must be right.”

Special rate for ‘hockey clients’?

Grant runs three successful businesses with her husband, Garth, in Woodbridge, Ont., including a construction company, a human resources consultancy and a basketball academy.

When setting up an account for their latest basketball training school, Grant asked a bank employee about a special monthly rate reserved for community-based businesses. 

“He said, ‘No, that is for our hockey clients,'” Grant said. “And I said, ‘I’m sorry, what? When you said that, does that sound ridiculous to you? When you say hockey clients, what do you mean?'”

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Since the May 25 death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Grant said there’s been an awakening among Black business owners to the damaging effects of systemic racism in the banking sector. 

“Because banking is so personal and it’s money, a lot of people don’t share their experiences,” she said. “We’ve actually started a podcast, and we’re calling it Banking While Black, which we’re sharing our individual experiences, and we’re getting others to call in and share.

“That’s what we’re going to use to let others know this is what the Black community goes through when we go to the bank. This is the level on which we are treated.”

Banking barriers hurt economy, innovation

Joycelyn Dottin, 43, who started a private Facebook support group for Black business owners that has 400 members, said there’s a cumulative cost to all these negative experiences.

“I can say one word: tired,” said Vancouver-based Dottin, who sells her graphic designs through websites such as Threadless.

“If there was a word count search that I could do in my Facebook group, the word is tired. We’re tired. Tired of fighting, tired of working harder than everyone else just so that we’re accepted.” 

Banking barriers can also stifle innovation, and it means the economy loses out on creativity, said York University’s Hossein.

“When we think about the systemic exclusion that’s occurring against Black entrepreneurs and business people … we will lose talent. We’re going to lose a lot of our creative people who are trying to grow an economy in new and exciting ways,” said Hossein.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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7 business owners share lessons they've learned through success and hardship during the pandemic –



A few weeks ago, Erin Moraghan and her staff celebrated the five year anniversary of her fitness studio. This week, the studio permanently closed its doors.

Like so many small businesses across the country, the fitness operation was no longer financially viable because of the pandemic.

A few hours before leading the final class at the Revkor studio in Cambridge, Ont., Moraghan was trying to be positive about the experience.

“There will be a lot of tears, there were some good tears this morning. It’s tough, but to be honest, we also really recognize that we’re in a very real global situation,” she said.

Moraghan has several pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs, including how important self-care can be.

“It’s been a lonely journey for a lot of business owners,” she said.

It’s just one helpful suggestion among many lessons a group of small business owners shared from their successes and struggles this year.

‘Trusting the numbers’

Moraghan’s fitness studio struggled because the number of participants was heavily restricted. Instead of 60 or 70 people for a class, there was a limit of just 12.

The small capacity was partially Moraghan’s decision because she wanted to go above and beyond the provincial government’s restrictions to ensure customers would be comfortable.

“We really wanted our studio to always feel like a safe haven for people,” she said.

WATCH | The challenge of reopening:

Erin Moraghan says it was challenging to re-open her fitness studio and ensure everyone was comfortable. 1:13

While the process of closing down the operation has been difficult, she credits having a business coach for preparing her for the tough decisions she had to make.

Her other recommendation, especially for people in the service industry, is to be practical and honest about the financial situation.

“We really can’t serve our communities if we are deeply compromised, personally, and so trusting the numbers, sometimes it’s very tough to face those realities.”

Erin Moraghan is now shifting her focus to Litethriive Wellness, a business she started in the spring that focuses on improving a person’s mindset through online meditation, workshops and life coaching. (Submitted by Erin Moraghan)

‘Call me cautious’

Kaevon Khoozani was at the Winnipeg airport in early March about to board a plane for a fitness trade show in Ohio when the event was cancelled.

His aspirations of growing his business in the United States seemed to be getting derailed.

Khoozani designs fitness equipment targeted toward people interested in powerlifting and CrossFit workouts. Calgary-based Bells of Steel opened 10 years ago and has seven employees in Canada and the States.

In March, sales began to pickup, but there was a big decision to make. Khoozani and his partner didn’t know whether to stock up on inventory or not. He found it difficult to understand if the pandemic would create an immense amount of interest in home-based fitness equipment or whether demand would fall because so many people would be negatively impacted financially due to lockdown measures.

“We could have jumped the gun a little faster. Call me cautious,” he said. “We waited a few months to see where things were at and because of that we lost out to some competitors.”

Fortunately, they had more inventory than normal to begin the year because of their growth plans in the U.S.

Overall, sales are three times as high this year as they were last year, but growth could have been significantly higher if they had acted sooner to put in orders with their suppliers.

Still, Khoozani said the company was able to grow its market share in the States.

On one day in particular, he said sales were $600,000.

He’s now contemplating expanding to Europe.

WATCH | Whether to coast or be aggressive:

Kaevon Khoozani describes the decision in the spring about whether to stock up on inventory at his fitness equipment company or wait. 1:42

‘A sudden shift’

When the Alberta government introduced lockdown measures in March, Kyle Hansen was able to keep his business open, but he expected sales to drop.

He cut back on staffing at his Benjamin Moore paint store in Calgary and decided to take the weekend off.

About 20 min into opening on the Saturday morning, he got a call from an employee who said, “I need you to get to the store right now.”

“It was a pretty big shift, a sudden shift that we weren’t expecting, and we were very fortunate to have it.”

With most people stuck at home, a variety of home improvement businesses saw a boost in demand.

Hansen had planned to start an online store next year, but worked long hours in the spring to get it up and running. A day after it launched, the online sales began.

Overall, paint sales are up about 40 per cent compared with last year.

While Hansen considers himself a planner, he credits the quick decision making as a lesson he learned. 

Meanwhile, while sales were strong, the store was understaffed at times with three full-time employees. That, too, was a learning experience, Hansen said, as some staff members became burned out.

WATCH | It’s tough to plan when you don’t know what’s coming:

A big business lesson from the pandemic for Kyle Hansen has been the need to make quick decisions. 1:10

‘There are no customers’

At Chiles Sandblasting and Painting in Red Deer, the shop can be busy one week and then absolutely dead the next week.

Owner Brian Chiles describes his business as an autobody shop for heavy duty and oilfield equipment. With a severe downturn in the oilpatch, sales at his business are down between 25 and 75 per cent, depending on the month.

The lesson he has learned is how important it is build up some savings and not carry around debt.

“I’ve been around a little bit. It would be very difficult for a new company to start up right now, so I am thankful for the financial situation we’re in.”

Still, there are challenges ahead. Not only are sales down, but even if the business closed, he can only reduce his expenses so much. Chiles owns his building, which costs money to operate. It’s an asset he can’t sell or rent because, he said, three-quarters of the buildings in his industrial park are already sitting empty because of business closures.

He’s unsure if his shop will experience the same fate.

“The problem happens to be there are no customers.”

‘I went with my gut’

After her Vancouver-area fitness studio was forced to close in March, PJ Wren decided over the next month to leave the brick-and-mortar gym in the past and pivot to an online business, Fitness with PJ.

“What I learned the most was how to make some tough decisions with very limited amount of information, as well as the fear of the unknown. So I went with my gut,” she said.

The world of online fitness coaches and programs is saturated, so Wren decided to focus on women over the age of 40. There was a learning curve, especially with understanding so many new online platforms where she can offer her services.

So far, the new venture is a success. Her revenue is similar to when she operated her fitness gym, but her expenses are lower. Instead of a staff of 12, with her online business she has three.

The 50-year-old said she’s less stressed and has more free time.

PJ Wren says her online fitness business is reaching people as far away as Europe, Australia and throughout North America.  (Submitted by PJ Wren)

‘When they call, you answer your phone’

For Vittorio Oliverio, the big lesson of 2020 is communication.

As the pandemic arrived in the spring, uncertainty swept across the country. For many people, it was centred around their jobs, their bills, and how they were going to make ends meet.

At his mortgage business, Oliverio admittedly had just as many questions as clients, but he purposely tried to reach out to as many people as he could to share what information he had.

In hindsight, he said that gave him an edge over his competition as he gained a level of respect as a business that was actively seeking to help and get answers for people.

“Everyone was struggling with what to do,” he said.

“Instead of hiding, we decided to go on the forefront and provide help and advice on how to handle their financial situation,” said Oliverio, who runs Centum Professional Mortgage Group in Lethbridge, Alta.

Over the summer, the phones kept ringing at the office as people wanted more information about mortgage payment deferral programs and other issues.

“It was surprising to me that banks make all these announcements without any indication to the client how to contact them,” he said.

The company ended up gaining a significant number of new clients, he said, and sales of mortgages are up 30 per cent compared with last year.

“It’s been phenomenal, business-wise,” said Oliverio. “A lot of times, people just want to know that when they call, you answer your phone.”

Vittorio Oliverio, second from left, and his staff from Centum Professional Mortgage Group. (Submitted by Vittorio Oliverio)

‘Once everything is normal …’

Of all the times to start a business, this year was not the best.

That’s the reality for Mohammad Anis, who began a new venture in the automotive sector.

After more than a few decades in the industry, he started his own business in Toronto to help local companies expand internationally and, conversely, work with foreign firms about how to grow into the Canadian market.

Since COVID-19 arrived around the time his business began, he hasn’t moved past the starting line.

His lesson?  No matter the business idea, there can be impacts outside of your control, like a pandemic.

“Once everything is normal, then definitely it will be easier to convince people and convince the industries to look at this [venture],” he said. 

It’s a setback, but he’s not giving up. He’s keeping costs low with hopes the business can pick up next year.

Share your experience by sending us an e-mail.

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Canadian Investors: 2 TSX Stocks for Peace of Mind in Volatile Times – The Motley Fool Canada



There weren’t many places to hide on Wednesday, as the TSX Index shed nearly 3% of its value, while the tech-heavy NASDAQ 100 tanked nearly 4%. The market-wide sea of red had many worried in what shaped up to be an “everything sell-off” that spared few. With the markets nearing correction territory once again, Canadian investors may wish to put some cash on some battered plays that are better poised to hold their own if the bear were to re-emerge from his cave before the holidays.

Nutrien: A lone green arrow on a big red day

Nutrien (TSX:NTR)(NYSE:NTR) was a lonely green arrow in Wednesday’s brutal sell-off, with shares bouncing 0.5% on a day where even select alternative asset classes sold off viciously.

Now, I’ve been a raging bull on shares of the fertilizer kingpin for quite some time now — not just because the long-term prospects for agricultural commodity producers are bright, given the secular tailwind in an ageing global population, but because Nutrien stock had been so beaten up such that its correlation to the broader markets is likely to be near zero, if not negative.

“Nutrien was in a world of pain well before the coronavirus crash hit.” I said in a prior piece where I referred to Nutrien as a dividend darling that was to be bought whether a market crash happens or not. “With a robust retail segment and operational advantages (in potash production in particular) that Nutrien holds over its peers in the space, the company is a ‘moatier’ stock that most folks would give it credit for.”

With shares of NTR trading at one times book value, the stock looks so undervalued that I suspect we’ll see more days where the stock holds its own when the rest of the market crumbles like a paper bag.

Hydro One: Low in beta and high in defence

Shares of the wide-moat municipal utility Hydro One (TSX:H) fell 0.8% on Wednesday. But it easily could have been in the green given the stock’s ridiculously low 0.21 beta. Ryan Vanzo, my colleague here at the Motley Fool, recently referred to Hydro One as one of the safest stocks on the TSX. I think he’s right on the money.

“The company primarily delivers electricity to customers in Ontario, where its transmission lines cover 98% of the province. Even during a recession, electricity demand doesn’t recede that much. And with regulators guaranteeing a level of profits, often years in advance, Hydro One has extreme visibility into future cash flows.” wrote Vanzo.

With a virtual monopoly that’s defending its cash flows, Hydro One is one of the few bond proxies that makes for a decent hiding place for investors worried that things could go south in a hurry. The company may not have the best growth profile in the world, but it certainly has one of the most well-covered 3.5%-yielding dividends out there. With shares trading at 1.7 times book value, you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck with H stock versus the likes of those ridiculously unrewarding fixed-income assets.

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Fool contributor Joey Frenette has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Nutrien Ltd.

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