ERIN – Stage one of Ontario’s gradual plan to reopen the economy is currently underway, yet for many businesses here, it is anything but business as usual.
Since the start of the pandemic, policy makers from various levels of government have been grappling with the unenviable task of balancing the economy and protecting public health.
Unprecedented stimulus packages have been deployed to help ease the financial pain for individuals and businesses, including cash payments, tax deferrals, unemployment benefits, loans and rent relief measures.
Sadly, not all scenarios are covered and a growing list of local businesses that don’t meet the criteria for financial assistance or stage one reopening rules are falling through the cracks.
Navigating the plethora of aid programs has left some entrepreneurs perplexed.
In fact, one source for this article would only comment on the condition of anonymity, for fear of scrutiny and possibly being disqualified for CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) due to the ambiguous eligibility criteria.
While some entrepreneurs can dig into savings or go into debt to cover a couple of months of overhead, more and more businesses are running out of options.
Organic Art Tattoo owner Dustin Scott was born and raised in Erin.
A volunteer firefighter for eight years involved in community and charity events, he put his life savings into his dream of starting his own business, which opened on Jan. 14.
“There’s zero help for a brand new business,” said Scott. “I never personally took a paycheque, yet due to the company being brand new, there’s no subsidy coverage.”
The store wasn’t in operation last year, he explained, so there is no way to accurately report lost income, which means he can not qualify for funding programs.
“The saddest part of all this is that everything was going awesome for the first two months and the future was looking very bright,” he said.
“It’s very frustrating that bigger companies qualify for potential free money and mine can barely get a tiny loan.”
AAA Events owner Tracey Wallace said the entertainment industry “is facing a very difficult challenge because the majority of us are dependent on crowds.
“Also, because we all work on sporadic schedules and sometimes have gaps between gigs, it’s hard focus to produce a six month income statement, so getting any loans is basically off the table.”
To stay afloat while following distancing guidelines, businesses have had to get creative.
Hillsburgh’s Fan/Joy restaurant owner Pam Fanjoy has significantly shifted her business model to focus on delivery and curbside pickup.
“In ten weeks of this pandemic I have heard nothing directly from local officials inquiring about what the real needs of small businesses are or how they can help,” said Fanjoy, calling the situation “very discouraging.”
She noted Wellington Waterloo Community Futures took the initiative to provide short-term emergency relief in the first two months, which she said saved her business.
“Paying back that loan now becomes the focus, but without that relief I would not be operating at all right now,” Fanjoy said.
“For that I am grateful. The rest is yet to be determined.”
Erin’s Brighten Up Toys & Games had to delay the grand opening of its second store in Fergus and implement safety measures to ensure a safe reopening at both locations.
Owner Chris Bailey, who also chairs the Erin BIA, had praise for the various levels of government.
“I cannot imagine the pressure and uncertainty these people are facing,” he said.
“Yet, they have been making I believe their very best effort to keep us informed, safe and collaboratively engaged.”
Ontario’s framework for reopening the province includes three stages. The dates for stages two and three are moving goalposts, with public health and safety being the number one concern, while balancing the needs of people and businesses.
The Ontario government is requesting feedback to help develop a plan for economic recovery at covid-19.ontario.ca.
The closing date for submissions is June 12.