This week, Toronto was greeted with the news that another beloved local bar and restaurant is closing down. Sweaty Betty’s on Ossington is a COVID-19 casualty, but since the news hit a fundraising campaign has picked up speed and could save the 17-year-old institution.
“With the case numbers climbing in Ontario still, I realized that the lockdown is likely going to extend longer than we originally predicted when they first shut the bar down at the beginning of December,” owner Mary Brand says. “And there’s only so long the bar can go being closed completely. I really have exhausted all of the options on my end, every type of loan and government support, and it’s just not enough.”
Brand’s friend, a hairstylist across the street from Sweaty Betty’s at Parlour, convinced her to start a GoFundMe, asking the community to help keep the bar afloat.
“I was really reluctant. I didn’t want to ask for help because I know everybody is struggling right now, not just me. But I felt like I’d run out of options, and there shouldn’t be any shame in asking for help when you need it,” Brand says. “Friends and staff had been mentioning setting up a GoFundMe to me since the first lockdown, and I was set against it. I really don’t like asking for help. I’m the kind of person who likes to take care of things on my own.”
In the end, though, Brand changed her tune at her friend’s insistence.
“She convinced me that we really didn’t have anything to lose and that offering people the chance to help out, letting the community come together, would really be something meaningful,” she says.
The GoFundMe garnered tons of support. Brand is beloved in the LGBTQ+ community and in the bar industry. She has supported various charities over the years, and it was now her turn to receive the love she gave to the community.
“It’s just been mind-blowing, really, to see how many people care and made the effort and offer their hard-earned money when I know none of us have much right now. It’s just meant more to me than I can possibly say,” Brand says.
She says the full amount of $50,000 will save Sweaty Betty’s and it is currently at more than $21,000 after one day.
Sweaty Betty’s has been on Ossington for 17 years, and Brand herself has been in the industry for 20 years. Pandemic struggles, of course, are unprecedented, but Brand is grateful that she can rely on a little bit of help from her family and friends.
“No one ever predicted we could be in a position like this,” she says. “I know bars and restaurants are closing left and right and it just means so much that people are willing to help me.”