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Small business owners in B.C. worry COVID-19 closures will be permanent

Last Updated Apr 3, 2020 at 7:24 am PDT

Christine Reid and her husband, Joe, are trying to launch a new business in North Vancouver, United Strangers Corner Store.(Courtesy Joe Reid)

The COVID-19 crisis is hitting small business owners in B.C. very hard, an Insights West survey has found

Many small business owners in B.C. say they are worried they won't make it through the pandemic, and may never reopen

One merchant trying to launch a new business in North Vancouver says she's having some sleepless nights

NORTH VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A large number of small shops, cafes and other business ventures in B.C. have already shut down because of the COVID-19 crisis.

A poll from Insights West finds 43 per cent of small businesses have closed their doors, and a further 27 per cent are operating, but are having difficulties. Another 23 per cent are operating a little differently, but are still up and going, while only eight per cent say it is business as usual.

“The alarming number is 31 per cent of owners think this crisis might force them to shut down permanently,” says Steve Mossop, president of Insights West. “There are also about 22 per cent who say that it will force them down the path of bankruptcy.”

The pollster calls it a serious situation for the province’s entrepreneurs.

“If you look at the number of small businesses in B.C. and the economic value that they represent, it’s quite a hit on the economy.”

Stress levels rise for North Vancouver couple

Christine Reid and her husband, Joe, are trying to launch a new business in North Vancouver, the United Strangers Corner Store.

They spent three years trying to secure space in a shuttered corner store along Mount Seymour Parkway in the Blueridge neighbourhood and are currently in the midst of renovations, having had plans to open their café and shop in just a few months.

But Reid says there are plenty of uncertainties.

“As it stands today, we are still proceeding with renovations of the space,” she tells NEWS 1130. “We’ve been working with a general contractor with a very small team and they have been taking precautions since COVID-19.”

Work schedules have also needed to be adjusted to accommodate District of North Vancouver inspections.

“They have to come in and inspect any time that work is completed. That takes a little bit longer because they have to follow certain procedures and not everyone is as available,” says Reid.

“And then we are concerned about materials. Along that chain, at any point, we could start to notice that materials for renovations or finishing [could be disrupted] and the building could stop. We are just trying to get ahead of that so we can keep moving.”

However, stress levels are rising for the couple, who are raising a nine-month-old baby.

“Our intended opening is in June and as more information comes to light and we see more cases, it can seem very nerve-racking thinking about opening a business. Will we be able to open? Will we be able to get a business license? Will we be able to get Vancouver Coastal Health approval?  All of these things are still in question. That’s what keeps us up at night,” Reid explains.

“With all the business loans you take out to take on renovations, you put together projections and you’re thinking about how you’ll be able to pay back these loans. For us, because we will both be employed by this business and we will be getting paid come June, it gets tricky. How will we pay ourselves? How will we pay our bills, not only for the business but also personally if we are not able to be fully open and running.”

Encouraged by others

But Reid is encouraged by the creativity of other small business in the community dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are seeing a lot of restaurants, coffee shops and breweries continue to find ways to serve their communities. And it’s really gone very local, especially here on the North Shore. There are a lot of breweries and restaurants that are doing takeout menus and deliveries and they are really starting to see relationships develop, one-on-one. We are paying attention to that and problem solving – if we were to open tomorrow, how would that look and feel and how would we still serve the community.”

She also takes heart in the support she and her husband have been receiving from neighbours.

“Every time we go by the space, and also on social media, we are always feeling so supported by the Blueridge and North Shore community. It’s honestly what keeps us going – knowing the community is behind us – and that everybody is very excited to have this corner store reopen and revitalized. I think without then we’d be feeling pretty doomy and gloomy right now,” she says. “It’s encouraging knowing that once all of this is over, everybody is wanting to support in a bigger way their local small businesses. I think the impact of COVID is that people are considering how they are spending their dollars and being more thoughtful with that. They want to connect with other people in their community once social distancing precautions are lifted.”

Life getting back to a kind of normal is a moment Reid and her husband look forward to.

“Then everyone is going to want to be flocking to their local coffee shops, see their neighbours again, give each other hugs and shake hands again and not be living in fear.“