Main photo: With social distancing encouraged and some businesses closing temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Huntsville’s Main Street was quieter than usual on March 18, 2020.
While things are changing by the day, and even by the hour, small business owners are wondering just how long they’ll be able to sustain a loss of business and stay afloat.
Although it is not clear whether health food stores would be considered an essential service, if all businesses—with the exception of those providing essential services—are ordered to close, Catherine Cole, owner of The Great Vine health food store, has tried to figure out how long her business could withstand a closure.
“I had a meeting with my accountant to see if I had absolutely no income if my store were to close, how long I could survive,” she said. “This time of year we’re at the very upper-end of our credit line, this is a hard time of year already.”
Cole said the timing is important and tough decisions would have to be made. “You’re making decisions about, okay, do I not pay some of my bills that are outstanding so I could make sure I could pay my employees… people still need to buy food,” she said, adding that most also live paycheck to paycheck and not being able to work creates an extreme hardship.
“We’ve been trying to strategize around that and how to keep being able to purchase if I have no money coming in.” She said the situation is stressful but she’s hoping there might be some reprieve.
“I do have faith that the government will put in some measure for small businesses to help us be able to have some time to deal with… mortgage payments and taxes and bills and all of this that we have at this time. I mean two weeks is one thing but how long will it really be?”
Other businesses have already been told to shut down or limit access to the public. On Tuesday, March 16, 2020, the Province declared a state of emergency and restaurants and bars have been ordered to stop serving customers in-house. Some have closed, while others have stayed open to offer takeout and/or delivery services, and community members who are able to support these establishments are asked to consider takeout as an alternative.
Debbie Knobelsdorf of Westside Fish and Chips, who is currently in self-isolation after picking up her mother in Florida and bringing her home, said she is concerned for her staff, “especially the servers.” She said her cooks still have work because she’s offering takeout. “Even though we’re deader than a doornail, I’m hoping things will calm down after a day or two and people will do some takeout, but it’s the servers I don’t need if no one is serving tables.” Knobelsdorf is wondering whether those left without work will be able to collect Employment Insurance until the virus passes. “I hope it doesn’t go long.”
Knobelsdorf said her staff has been diligent about disinfecting everything those who come for takeout could be in contact with and there are styluses for customers to use if they’re paying by debit.
“People are saying if the virus isn’t going to kill us, it’s going to put us into bankruptcy.” In the interim, she said, “we’ll continue to be a takeout restaurant as long as they’ll allow us to do that and hope this doesn’t last very long.”
Today, March 18, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government will provide up to $27 billion to support workers and businesses impacted by the virus.
The measures for workers include:
- Waiving the one-week waiting period for those individuals in imposed quarantine that claim Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits. This temporary measure will be in effect as of March 15, 2020.
- Waiving the requirement to provide a medical certificate to access EI sickness benefits.
- The new Emergency Care Benefit providing up to $900 bi-weekly, for up to 15 weeks. This flat-payment benefit would be administered through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and provide income support to:
- Workers, including the self-employed, who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19 but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits.
- Workers, including the self-employed, who are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19, such as an elderly parent, but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits.
- Parents with children who require care or supervision due to school closures, and are unable to earn employment income, irrespective of whether they qualify for EI or not.
To support businesses that are facing revenue losses and to help prevent lay-offs, the government is proposing a temporary wage subsidy for eligible small employers for a period of three months. The subsidy will be equal to 10 per cent of remuneration paid during that period, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. Businesses will be able to benefit immediately from this support by reducing their remittances of income tax withheld on their employees’ remuneration. Employers benefiting from this measure will include corporations eligible for the small business deduction, as well as non-profit organizations and charities.
Find out more about all of the economic measures being instituted by the federal government here.
For ongoing updates about the virus in the Huntsville area, check here regularly: How COVID-19 is impacting the Huntsville area: cases, cancellations, news, and commentary
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