Neeti Mehrotra, owner of The UPS Store on Mississagua Street, says after 16 years, she and her husband Vinay have had to make the difficult decision to close.
She has been in the store the last week or so, packing up, and helping the occasional customer who has knocked on the locked door — she says she couldn’t turn them away.
The Garrison Plaza store was full of stock she ordered in February to get them through what should have been their busy season, and she’s been sorting it and getting rid of what she can. Like the Mississagua Street store, other UPS outlets are not doing a booming business, and she has offered them the stock at whatever price they can pay. “What else are we going to do with it,” she says.
Although the pandemic has created a downturn for the Mehrotras, they’ve continued to see many of their regular customers, she says.
But they have had a significant increase in their rent, and also in the common area charges. They also need to replace the air conditioner and pay for it over two years, taking their monthly payment to a cost they can’t afford.
The landlord, offered a chance to respond to the rent increase, did not do so before deadline.
“This is the kind of business that relies on many small things that add up,” says Neeti. “There was definitely a drop because of COVID, but at least we were open. We had people sending masks to family and children, and we had some of our regular customers, but there weren’t that many people coming around.”
A good part of the UPS income was from other local businesses, said Mehrotra. Restaurant owners sent her their menus to be printed, stores brought merchandise purchased by tourists to be shipped home, and the hotels depended on UPS to return forgotten items to their owners.
“And then everything was gone all at once, and we just couldn’t keep going,” she says.
Although her landlord says he is making sure he takes advantage of any government assistance programs during the pandemic, Neeti says the rent subsidy would be for a short time only, and would not be enough to help them stay open.
Ali and Homei Khalili, Neeti’s next door neighbours in the plaza, say the rent for their Subway franchise has also increased significantly, first with the hike per square foot, and then with the common area charges for the plaza. Ali says he tried to negotiate with the landlord, but the resulting monthly charges will make it tough. “I know the property taxes are high in Niagara-on-the-Lake,” he says, “but give us a break. This will make it hard to survive.”
The Mehrotras “are good people,” he says. “This is very sad news. We didn’t get a chance to talk to them much — we were both busy working. But I remember when we first came here, they said this is a good place to be. They were so happy to be here.”
He says he is grateful the landlord is applying for the federal rent subsidy offered to offset a decrease in sales from the pandemic, which will help, “but it’s only for a few months, and then, when everything goes back to normal, we’ll still have to pay the increased rent and common area charges.”
Neeti says the best part of the business has always been the people she has met, who welcomed her and made her feel part of the community.
“Our customers have been beyond amazing. That’s what is making this so tough for us.”
She and Vinay will stay here, in the community where their two boys grew up, she says.
“They were four and six when we came here. They went to Parliament Oak, and they would come to the store after school.”
They are both in university now, one at the University of Toronto and the other in Waterloo. ”This is the only home they know. Customers still ask about them.”
As distressed as she is, she is determined to put on a brave face.
When the pandemic began, “there were others so much worse off, businesses that couldn’t even open during this. I felt we were in a better place than many others,” she says.
Two of her regular customers, local musician Penner MacKay and graphic designer Mary Tribe, told The Local how sorry they are to see the UPS store closed.
MacKay, a drummer and drumming instructor who has been teaching local kids for more than 30 years, says he has used the copying service extensively for his music, putting pages together for his students. He’s also used it to print posters for local concerts. But the store, he says, “wasn’t just about photocopying. It was about the people. It was a community thing.”
He remembers seeing Mehrotra’s boys at the store after school, “and before I knew it, they had grown up. Sure, people will miss the service,” says MacKay, “But they’ll miss the people more.”
Mary Tribe, a graphic designer who has used the UPS service for years, remembers how pleased she was when it opened in town. She lives within walking distance, and has used it for photo enlargements, sending parcels and other services. “I’ve known Neeti a long time. Her kids went to school with my grandchildren. I went to the store Tuesday to do some photocopying, and found Neeti there. ‘Oh Mary,’ she said, ‘we’ve had to close the business.’”
Tribe says she’s usually in the store a couple of times a week, and sees people coming in and out all the time, “not only Queen Street merchants but residents as well. There are a lot of people who are going to miss the business.”
And she will miss Neeti, she says.
“She’s adorable. She is so sweet. And I can’t even give her a hug.”
Tribe says she made a hugging motion, “and I told her to consider herself hugged. It’s so sad. She worked so hard. A very local business that was so much a part of the community is gone.”
Neeti laughs when she says she’s going to have to look for a job now. “I can’t imagine what I’ll put on my resume. This is all I’ve done for the last 16 years,” she says, sweeping her arm around the dark, empty store.
“We’ll be okay. I don’t want anyone to worry about us. I still feel there are many who are worse off than we are. This could happen to anyone, not just us. And we’re not going anywhere. This is the village that brought up my kids.”
Mehrotra says she wants to thank all of their customers, “for their support and for their friendship. This is what I’ll miss, my friends.”