TORONTO -- As other industries started shutting down due to COVID-19, general contractor Michael Ringer says he’s been busier than ever doing something he’s never done before. The Toronto entrepreneur has been fabricating protective plexiglass barriers — so others can keep working.

“As this was getting closer and closer to a head, we realized it was going to be a bigger issue,” he said. “A couple of my clients reached out and said, ‘hey, can we do something with plexiglass? Block the counters off? Do something so that we can maintain operations?’”

Ringer said that since mid-March the demand has been so great that he’s had difficulty acquiring plexiglass. He says he hasn’t been able to get quarter-inch sheets for weeks, and is now using thicker, more expensive half-inch sheets.

“It’s been challenging. I called for stock one day, and [the supplier] said, ‘Yeah — we got it.’ I quoted the clients, they got back to me within a few hours, and I called the supplier back. And they said, ‘Oh, somebody bought it all.’”

Julie Galiatsos, the owner of the Ideal Coffee chain, says she ordered plexiglass barriers for her cafes more than a month ago.

“We had a contractor that had a source. So we’re fortunate that it didn’t take months, it took about four or five weeks.”

So far, two of Galiatsos’ cafes have barriers, with only her Sorauren Avenue location still awaiting installation. The small business owner said that she’s just trying to make sure staff and clients feel protected when her cafes reopen for more than takeout. 

Of course, the barriers can come with a pretty substantial price tag. When you factor in both materials and installation — it can cost a business up to $700 to $800. 

“It’s tough because it’s not cheap, and people are already struggling in restaurant and hospitality,” Ringer told CTV News Toronto Wednesday afternoon. “It might just not be in their budget.”

Galiatsos said this was an investment she had to make, but she hopes the plexiglass won’t become a permanent feature in her cafes.

“I really hope it isn’t after the next year. I hope we can ride it out. I certainly don’t want to live with plexiglass between us, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”