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KEEPING AFLOAT

Canadian Federation of Independent Business says as many as one third of small businesses may close in a month.
Local businesses adapting to COVID-19 as best they can, but agree help is needed

Tyler Waugh
news@hintonvoice.ca


The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) worries about the viability of small businesses in the wake of COVID, saying as many as one third of them may close inside a month without additional government help.

A CFIB survey indicated only five per cent of business owners in Alberta feel they are doing well, as opposed to 60 per cent who responded they are doing poorly.

Local businesses are doing what they can to adapt services and stay afloat until they get a better understanding of how and when government measures will kick in.

Jessica Agunias, operations manager for Canadian Steakout restaurant, said their sales have gone down drastically and that COVID has forced some big changes in staffing, inventory and services in a short amount of time.

“However, we need to adapt – we started doing delivery and a lot of people appreciated what we did. We’d rather have customers pick up their food or order for delivery than coming in the restaurant. So far, the delivery is doing well and all our staff feels more secured and safe in this way,” she said, adding that Steakout has also since closed off its dining area.

“If we have to shut down completely, we would not regret doing so, as we believe it is for the better being of the Hinton community.”

The Wild Orchid Liquor Company remains open with regular hours, and has provided the option to call an order in for delivery without charge, or picked up at the curb.

She says that business has still be good and they had good
response to a virtual wine tasting on March 18, an
online spin to an event they would otherwise
host in house.

“We were even able to get people from Edmonton and Calgary to join and I think everyone had fun,” she said.

The Old Grind made the decision to close its café, but continues to plan and fulfill catering orders and is available via phone and email.

“We know that many of you don’t feel like this virus is a big deal, but we do, and we don’t want to put the health of our staff or our customers at risk. The threat is real. We need to come together as a community and put up a solid wall to stop it from entering our sacred spaces,” notes a posting on The Old Grind entrance.

Nancy Robbins, executive director of Community Futures West Yellowhead (CFWY), said a lot of business owners in the region are scared, and she is reminding them not to panic, and to be sure to apply for whatever emergency provisions are made available.

“Make sure to read the eligibility requirements closely and to be patient with the process and to remembers we are only in Week 2 and there will hopefully be more programs coming for specific sectors in the near future,” said Robbins.

“The longer this goes on, the more things that are going to be pushed that way.”

Canada’s latest measure the Canada Emergency Response Benefit – was announced March 25 to support workers and help businesses keep their employees.

CERB is a taxable benefit that would provide $2,000 a month for up to four months for workers who lose their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CERB would cover Canadians who have lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19, as well as working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or at home because of school and daycare closures.

CERB would apply to wage earners, as well as contract workers and self-employed individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI).

The portal for accessing the CERB would be available in early April.

EI eligible Canadians who have lost their job can continue to apply for EI here, as can Canadians applying for other EI benefits.

Canadians would begin to receive CERB payments within 10 days of application and it would be paid every four weeks and be available March 15 until Oct. 3.

CERB comes on the heels of previously announced federal measures like a 10 per cent wage subsidy.

The CFIB believes that 10 per cent is not enough and that something closer to a 75 per cent wage subsidy is required to keep Canadians in jobs and small businesses viable.

“Businesses are looking for ways to keep their staff employed but reduce their operating costs so they can weather the massive disruption,” read a March 24 release from CFIB.

Sheppard, who is also president of the Hinton and District Chamber of Commerce, said the organization has received several calls from concerned members.

“From people who have had to shut down their business altogether or those that are struggling to stay open with limited staff and resources,” Sheppard said.

“People are scared and without knowing what is going to happen or how hard we will be hit, I don’t blame them. Honestly, it is the waiting and wondering that is the most nerve wracking.”

The province has also announced several measures to help lessen the burden on small businesses.

With all of the announcements, Robbins said she continues to receive a lot of calls asking for details about some of the programs.

Agunias said there are a lot of gray areas on how announced measures will be implemented and actually help small business owners.

“We have a lot of questions, but I think this is not the right time yet as we want our government to focus on our frontliners, the hospital, doctors, nurses, getting enough PPE and testing kits,” she said.

Robbins said people have to be patient because, while these program have been announced, many of them won’t be available until April.

She said that CFWY and organizations like Alberta Labour and Immigration and the chamber are in discussions with the Town of Hinton about collaborating on efforts to educate people on available programs.

Peter Vana, who served as the interim CAO for the Town of Hinton at the March 24 standing committee meeting, indicated that the collaboration may include some webinars.

Robbins said she will continue to field calls and help business owners navigate this new reality.

She can be reached by phone at (780) 740-3409 or via email at nrobbins@albertacf.com.

Sheppard said that she is scared for what this crisis will mean but holds out hope that everyone will come through it together.

“The ripple effect of this is so far out of our realm that we cannot possibly prepare for it. That said, I have faith in humanity and my community that we are resilient and will come together to come out of this and be better for it. There will be businesses that do not survive this but I have already seen people live outside their norm to help stimulate our economy. I have to believe in that,” she concluded.