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North Vancouver café owner joins B.C. restaurant association in calling for COVID loan extension

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When COVID-19 forced businesses to shut down in 2020, the lease was on up Pegsters Coffee Shop in North Vancouver, and owner Peggy Lee had an option to close her beloved business for good and retire.

But the federal government offered a lifeline in the form of loans from the Canada Emergency Business Account, and Lee decided to take it.

“Because we love this shop so much, and the government was helping, I thought OK, let’s carry on,” said Lee, who applied for and was granted a $60,000 loan that helped her pay her bills when the shop was closed or under pandemic restrictions.

Like all small business owners who took advantage of the program, Lee was told if she repaid the loan by a certain date, $20,000 would be forgiven. But last year, Lee got a letter from her bank saying she didn’t qualify for the loan forgiveness.

She says she has tried — and failed — to figure out what changed.

“For me unfortunately, now I have to pay back all $60,000. That $20,000 is not for me to keep anymore, because they say I’m not qualified. Which surprised me because when we first applied for it, we qualified,” said Lee.

All CEBA borrowers have been given until Jan. 18 to repay the interest-free loan or it will be converted to a three-year loan from the federal government at five per cent interest, with monthly payments starting immediately.

Lee says her business has not fully recovered from the pandemic, and combined with inflation costs, she cannot afford another monthly loan payment. “I don’t have the extra money right now,” said Lee.

Ian Tostenson with the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association says many small business owners who took out CEBA loans are in the same boat.

“It’s just really sad, and you know there’s a lot of Pegsters out there that are having to go through this,” said Tostenson. “The whole thing started off really well and congratulations to the government for helping all of us, but they are making a big mess of it right now.”

He’s calling on the federal government to explain why some business owners have now been told they don’t qualify, and to extend the deadline to repay the CEBA loans without interest for several years so businesses can get back on their feet.

“If you force the payment right now, you’re going to close a lot of businesses. Not only are you not going to get the money back, you’re also going to lose tax revenue and we’re going to increase unemployment in these particular places,” Tosenton said. “More importantly, you’re probably destroying (shops) like Pegster, which is a family business. A lot of business that are being affected by this are family operations.”

Lee is also hoping the government listens to the growing calls for a CEBA extension.

“We have been offered help from the very beginning, we appreciate that, but now we are just asking for more time,” said Lee. “The government should give us some compassion.”

The 68-year-old has already been forced to lay off all her staff to cut costs. With some help from her daughter, Lee works 12 hours a day to keep Pegsters afloat – her dreams of retirement now replaced with questions about how she will repay tens of thousands of dollars of debt. 

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