'We can’t pay the rent': Not all small businesses getting government aid, Ottawa promising more
VANCOUVER -- Difficult times during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a difficult decision for Chris Bodnar of Emerald Phoenix Comics in Aldergrove.
He’s closing his business of nine years and plans to move his stock into storage.
"There hasn’t been an eviction notice or anything from the landlord, but we also don’t feel right. We can’t pay the rent," Bodnar said.
Bodnar said only one of their usual suppliers for the store is still operating.
"With no income coming in from people coming and buying new product, and no new product coming in, it doesn’t leave us with much option," Bodnar said.
He added his landlord said they could pay half the rent this month, and add the rest onto May’s payment, but it’s not feasible for him at the moment.
"If I can’t make rent this month, having lost a couple weeks, I can’t say that I’ll be able to make rent plus next month," Bodnar said.
His store also didn’t have a high enough payroll to qualify for the interest-free loans of up to $40,000 being offered through the Canada Emergency Business Account, a federal aid program. In order to qualify, businesses and non-profits have to have paid between $50,000 and $1 million in payroll in 2019.
"There’s a number of businesses that I think are exactly that - they’re going to fall through the cracks," Bodnar said.
On Tuesday, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau hinted at more support on the way when it comes to commercial rents, but no details were made available yet.
Dageraad Brewing owner and head brewer Ben Coli, who is part of a campaign called Save Small Business, said he’s "cautiously optimistic" about what that may mean.
"My worry is that some of the programs in the past that they’ve had eligibility requirements that left out large groups of businesses," Coli said. "It’s way better for them to accidentally subsidize somebody who doesn’t need it, than it is to miss out businesses and possibly lose those businesses, because who’s going to be around to restart our economy if all these small businesses disappear?"
The campaign is calling for more help with commercial rent and loan debt, such as subsidies for commercial lease holders to give tenants a break, and a moratorium on commercial lockouts, among other measures.
"We’d like to see a federal policy mandating commercial landlords to renegotiate with their tenants, at least renegotiate rent reductions, for this period of time,” Coli said. "In Australia, they’ve brought in something like this, that mandates them to reduce rent in proportion to how revenues have been affected."
Coli said the campaign is not tied to a single approach to the problem but wants to see some solutions that will not result in further debt for business owners.
"Most of them have their house on the line, with their existing loans, and we’re just going to bury them further in debt," Coli said. "Small businesses in this country are responsible for 40 per cent of GDP. We’re all integrated into the supply chain at numerous levels, and the economy doesn’t restart without us."
Bodnar is planning to look at online sales for his wares and hopes to open another brick and mortar storefront once this is over. He’s also hoping speaking out might help others.
"If this allows other businesses to make it through this, then that’s all I can ask for," he said.