VANCOUVER -- Sheila Hamilton is trying to stay upbeat. The former nurse owns it's time! Fitness Results, a gym in North Vancouver that caters to seniors and is usually full of life. But now her business is empty. Since closing in March, Hamilton has lost 95 per cent of her revenue and laid off six employees. 

"It just became sort of an implosion, and we really didn’t have a choice.” Hamilton said. And her business is one of many.

A joint survey by the BC Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and the Business Council of British Columbia paints a grim picture of what the economy could look like in a few months under COVID-19 restrictions.

A survey of 1,284 businesses during the week of April 9 to 17 found 43 per cent of those surveyed stated that they can only continue to operate for up to three months under current restrictions. Only 53 per cent of businesses that are temporarily closed expect to reopen once restrictions are eased, 38 per cent are unsure and eight per cent said they will not reopen.

Revenues have decreased substantially for many businesses, with more than half experiencing declines of up to 75 per cent.

“You have to imagine there’s a lot of nervous entrepreneurs out there right now, thinking, ‘Am I going to make it through this?’” said Val Litwin, president and CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce.

64 per cent of the respondents said wages were their top operating cost, followed by rent, taxes, and then goods and supplies. And for Hamilton, that will stand in the way of hiring people back when she reopens.   

“I have thousands and thousands of dollars in operating costs to make up (with) every month that goes by with this closure, so it’s going to be a while before we can realistically look at having seven full time people back,” she said, adding it could be worse. “I’m one of those people that are in a very fortunate position because so far my landlord has been very accommodating.”

The survey of members closed just a day after the federal government relaxed rules to help more small businesses qualify for interest free loans and announced a commercial rent assistance program. 

The survey had shown 33 per cent of businesses felt the federal program were not helpful because they didn’t qualify or that they didn’t provide enough or timely cash flow relief. For the same reasons, 35 per cent of business did not find B.C.’s provincial programs helpful. And about 49 per cent of businesses with less than five employees said they did not qualify for help.

“Part of what’s so tragic about all of this is you’re going to see successful entrepreneurs fail because of the timing of this, and the bets they were placing on the B.C. economy,” said Litwin.

Just one third of those surveyed were confident that they’d qualify for the 75 per cent wage subsidy program. Some would not be eligible because they didn’t have enough employees on the payroll and revenue had not declined enough.

“How government listens and responds to the business community in the coming weeks will be the game-changer, in terms of economic recovery,” said Litwin. “The reality is there’s a window, (and) it’s closing. The clock is ticking here - businesses need cash.”

In the meantime, Hamilton is teaching online classes through the Mindbody app and has lent a lot of her equipment out. While she's planning for the future, she said: “Thinking too far ahead tends to get the anxiety going.”