“‘We’re all in this together’ has a nice ring to it, but the government has to put their money where their mouth is,” said Ginger Robertson, owner of the Toronto bars and restaurants the Edmund Burke and Off the Hook.
Robertson was part of a media conference held by city councillor Paula Fletcher, announcing the results of the Broadview-Danforth BIA’s COVID-19 impact survey of small businesses across the city – 561 small business tenants and 137 landlords.
Of the small business owner respondents, 61 per cent said that, if things don’t change, their businesses would close within three months. And 76 per cent said they would close down for good within five months.
Of the landlords surveyed, 74 per cent said they did not receive April rent in full and 82 per cent are not confident they will receive May rental payments.
The solution? According to 84 per cent of the respondents, the answer is a rent relief bailout.
Last week, the federal government has announced commercial rent relief is on the way but is still working out details with the provinces, which govern rental agreements.
Canada also recently enacted the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which provides a 75 per cent wage subsidy to eligible employers for up to 12 weeks. The government is also offering interest-free loans of up to $40,000 through the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA).
But for business owners like Nathan Hynes of the Auld Spot Pub on Danforth, those aren’t the right responses to this situation.
“There are so many unknowns that it’s difficult to grasp the value of [a subsidy or loan] at this point,” said an animated Hynes during the media conference on Wednesday, which took place on Zoom.
He said that his bar had closed after Ford declared the state of emergency on March 24 that force non-essential businesses, including restaurants and bars that did not offer takeout, to shutter. The establishment remained closed for weeks before pivoting to takeout, during which time he had no wages to subsidize.
“It’s crazy to offer a small business a loan when they’ve been mandated to close,” he said. “It’s completely unrealistic for that.”
Hynes said the government is “tone-deaf” for treating small businesses as if they run like bigger businesses that they can just absorb debt into the company. Many of them can’t afford to look too far into the future, especially now.
Robertson said the speed at which the relief came is “a disgrace” and that her businesses’ savings were dwindling while they were waiting for a response from government.
Peter Tabuns, MPP, Toronto-Danforth, expressed the urgency of rent relief as the month of April dwindles.
“Eight days from now, rent is due,” he said. “And many businesses won’t be able to pay it. Many will face seizure of assets and premises. Landlords will face foreclosure.”
Some businesses – like the Shore Leave, the Hideout and Vesuvio’s – have already started to close. Others have worked out deals on rent with their landlords, but those are usually temporary deferrals. What about if the shutdown lasts months?
Tabuns and Fletcher are calling on premier Doug Ford’s provincial government to provide rent relief for at least three months and also call a four-month moratorium on commercial evictions. Stabilization is key, he said, so they’ll be ready to reopen whenever the pandemic is over.
Ford’s campaign slogan was “open for business” and Tabuns said this is his opportunity to turn those words into action. “If we want businesses on our main streets, he needs to step in with cash and a moratorium.”
Hynes worries that without a bailout, this could become an existential crisis for the restaurant and bar industry. Otherwise, subsidy aside, they’re being forced to run as if it’s business as usual. And that could mean, he said, “we’re being blatantly set up to fail.” The dystopian view, he theorizes, would be that the shutdown would end and most small businesses would be gone. Then the bailout would come for the banks and insurance companies, not the small businesses.
Robertson pointed out that it’s not only about owners and landlords but restaurant workers and also all the restaurants’ suppliers – farmers, breweries, etc.
“It will take years to recover if they don’t set out now – yesterday – and help us.”