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Small businesses fear losing locations as expenses pile up, rent is due amid virus crisis

Last Updated Apr 1, 2020 at 6:28 am PDT

FILE - Kitchen staff prepare for dinner service at Edible Canada restaurant in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday October 11, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Businesses in Vancouver say not enough is being done to help them amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Some business owners fear they'll have to shut down without help from the feds to pay expenses while they're closed

Workers have received support, but business owners say they may not even have jobs to come back to after the crisis

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The beginning of the month means small businesses are making big sacrifices as COVID-19 keeps them closed.

The federal government has offered help to workers but their bosses say there may not be any jobs to return to if more isn’t done to save bricks and mortar businesses.

The first of the big payments owed by any small business since the coronavirus pandemic began is due Wednesday, April 1, but for Joe Abbinante, the owner of a downtown Vancouver café, money isn’t his biggest concern.

“I know there’ a lot of desperate people out there for money, but health is number one,” he says, having shut his own Caffe Express on Dunsmuir Street down, two weeks ago.

However, if the federal government doesn’t do something to protect business owners from bankruptcy and eviction, Abbinante worries there won’t be any restaurants or cafes left when we finally emerge from isolation and distancing.

“You don’t have to be a mathematician to understand that two months or one month without any sales or any revenues is catastrophic for this industry,” he said. “The concern for most people in the retail trade, I think, is where do we get our rent payment? That’s the biggest nut to pay, right?”

His cafe has been closed for almost two weeks and he tells NEWS 1130 he’s doing everything he can to stay in business. However, there has been no eviction or rent protection offered to commercial renters.

Others noted the 75 per cent wage subsidy the government is now offering as part of its emergency plan is great — for those who qualify.

“If I had employees, I would be thrilled,” says Monique Cherrie, owner of Makeshift Coworking space in Vancouver. “But I actually don’t, it’s just me. And I’m not really seeing anything else that’s going to help me when it comes to things like rent. I have loans, you know? I’m a brand new business.”

She, too, worries that, like Abbinante, she won’t be able to reopen after the crisis ends and people are allowed to begin living “normally” again if the right help isn’t offered by the government.

Neighbourhoods, like the recently reinvigorated Strathcona district where Cherrie is located, will see a massive loss of local options and future degradation, she worries.

So far, Ottawa is offering interest-free loans, as well as the 75 per cent wage subsidy, but businesses must prove they’ve lost 30 per cent of their revenue to qualify for that.

“Restaurateurs would like to see that there would be a similar situation to the residential tenants to say no eviction,” Abbinante said.

Meanwhile, Cherrie said she’s not accepting rent from her members, as they are suffering too.

“I think it’s a unique place to be brick and mortar. A lot of companies are online, so they don’t have to worry about paying for Hydro, they don’t have to worry about paying for rent,” she said, adding interest-free loans aren’t a good option as many businesses are already overburdened with debt.

-With files from Dean Recksiedler