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Difficult days ahead for Airdrie businesses

Airdrie’s business community is facing unprecedented challenges as residents keep to their homes to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, resulting in considerable revenue losses for local restaurants, bars and retailers.

Thomas Lam, owner of Joey's Seafood Restaurant located at 311 800 Veterans Blvd. N.W., said the business has seen its number of customers cut in half. As of March 18, restaurants, bars and cafes in Alberta are still allowed to stay open, but must limit crowds to a maximum of 50 people or half their original capacity – whichever is lower.

“The very first obvious impact is our business dropped a lot, not just for dining in, but even for pick-up-and-go,” Lam said. “We dropped at least 50 per cent in the last week.”

While Lam hasn’t yet been forced to layoff staff, he has reduced their hours and said his restaurant can't sustain current sales levels for more than a few months.

“In the long run, it will become a real hurt for all the local businesses,” he said.

Lam’s experience is far from unique. A Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) survey, released March 17, indicated half of Canada’s small-to-mid-size enterprises (SMEs) experienced a drop in sales due to COVID-19 – four in 10 respondents reported sales decreases greater than 25 per cent.

“The early economic impacts of coronavirus on Canada’s SMEs has been massive,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly in a statement. “Even more alarming is our finding that a full quarter of small firms would not be able to survive for more than a month with a drop in business income of more than 50 per cent.”

The survey found the average cost to SMEs is already about $66,000. Forty-three per cent of respondents reported they have reduced hours for staff, 20 per cent have started temporary layoffs, 38 per cent have experienced supply chain issues and 42 per cent said they will have zero sales if face-to-face contact is not permitted.

“CFIB is advising all small business-owners to listen and respond to the advice of public health officials in order to keep their employees and customers safe,” Kelly said. “However, we must recognize that calls for self-isolation have massive economic consequences for many Canadian small businesses, especially as close to two-thirds of small firms would not be able to quickly shift more than 10 per cent of sales to online or telephone options.”

While the hospitality sector has been hit hard, it’s not just restaurants and bars feeling the effects. Lindsey Cybulskie, owner of Homegrown House and Pantry and founder of the Shop Local Airdrie Facebook page, said her business is also experiencing slower sales.

“None of the restrictions have directly affected us, but it’s definitely been hard,” she said. “We’re definitely going to have to reduce hours to decrease costs, because we’re having less foot traffic than usual. We’re having to be creative – allowing people to phone in and get orders ready to go so they don’t have to come into the store, or they can get it as they drive by.”

While Homegrown experienced a surge in business earlier this month – the result of people stockpiling items en masse – Cybulskie said sales have dropped since then and March is shaping up to be its worst-ever month in terms of revenue.

With fewer customers coming through the door, she said the business is shifting to an online focus.

“Prior to coronavirus actually starting, we had started to create a website for people to purchase gifts online,” she said. “The timing worked out that it’s actually going to be released sometime in the next week, so people will be able to purchase online and [products] will be delivered or ready to be picked up, paid for already and ready to go.”

Cybulskie encourages residents to use the Shop Local Airdrie Facebook page to find ways to continue supporting local businesses during the pandemic. She said purchasing gift cards online or over the phone is one way to do so.

As multiple sectors continue to cope with the struggles, the Airdrie Chamber of Commerce (ACC) is publishing daily COVID-19 updates on its website, as well as links to resources for local business-owners.

“Although the government won’t likely be able to assist [business-owners] in every capacity, there will be an opportunity to really feel like you have a chance to apply for new funding, or possibly, if you’re laying off staff, to give them opportunities to have employment insurance,” said Marilyne Aalhus, ACC executive director.

She added, ACC is experiencing its own financial hardships as a result of the pandemic and will postpone or cancel its annual Airdrie Home and Lifestyle Show, which was slated to take place April 25 and 26.

“We’re very event-driven and try to promote business through many events,” she said. “We’re looking at postponing the majority of our large luncheons and possibly some networking opportunities – which is a really sad situation for businesses because it gave them such a fantastic opportunity to connect with their community.

“The Airdrie Home and Lifestyle Show was obviously our largest event and a huge event for our chamber to offer other resources to our community. When we cancel something like that, it’s going to have major effects for years to come.”

On March 18, the federal government announced an aid package worth $82 billion to help Canadians through the crisis. The stimulus package will include $27 billion in direct support, while the remaining $55 billion will be to help businesses through tax deferrals. The same day, the province announced its own stimulus package, totalling $50 million in financial relief for those unable to work due to self-isolation and a delay until August for payment of corporate income tax.

COVID-19 UPDATE: Follow our COVID-19 special section for the latest local and national news on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as resources, FAQs and more.

Scott Strasser,
Follow me on Twitter @scottstrasser19

Scott Strasser

About the Author: Scott Strasser

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