In the face of mandatory closures, declined client traffic, and job loss resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is no surprise that local businesses have been hit especially hard. While many have led the charge on social responsibility and social distancing by partially or fully closing their doors even prior to any mandatory regulations, the effect of such closures are deeply felt.
Carolyn Doyle, owner of Big Bang Bagels, said that though supporting small businesses in this time can be challenging, it is important to hold onto hope and be ready to show support to local businesses once they reopen.
“I’ve been messaging my staff every day. I think it’s really important to keep them informed about what we are doing and what the authorities are mandating, and to encourage them to find bright spots these days. There are lots of discouraging things happening, but there’s also little positive things, and if we are focusing on those things then we are all going to get through this,” said Doyle.
Doyle stressed that the most important thing people can do to support small businesses at this time is to self isolate to prevent further spread of the virus.
“The best thing people can do right now to support businesses is to keep themselves isolated so that this blows over as quickly as possible.The sooner we can limit contact, the sooner this will hopefully stop being passed between people and the sooner we can reopen things,” said Doyle. “Keeping yourself isolated right now, and then once things reopen, making sure you are going back to those businesses and supporting them. I think that’s probably the best thing.”
While business is unavoidably slower than usual, Big Bang Bagels has put into place alternative means to do business, such as implementing curb side pick up and a bike delivery service to encourage social responsibility.
Other local businesses throughout town have also implemented creative alternatives to business as usual. The Fernie Brewing Company is doing fly by beer pickup outside their main location while other local businesses have started offering delivery services with payments taken online or over the phone. For the latest news on business closures and innovative alternatives to regular services, visit Tourismfernie.com/news/coronavirus-covid-19.
As a result of the effects felt by every local business, the Fernie Chamber of Commerce released a statement addressing the local economic impacts of the pandemic, while offering advice on appropriate measures to be taken at this time.
The statement also noted that the economic effects of current business closures could be felt for months, with an estimated complete resumption of operations not occurring until mid June. As a result, Brad Parsell, the Fernie Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, urged the business community to act in ways that protect their businesses.
Parsell also encouraged businesses to look after their employees despite lay offs in an effort to reopen at full capacity when possible. He suggested retaining workers when possible, and providing records of employment to laid off staff to ensure their financial wellbeing during the interim. Parsell also advised local businesses to free up their cash flow, and to take advantage of vendors accepting deferred payments.
“I encourage all of you as leaders in our community to be strong, but also compassionate and empathetic during this time,” Parsell said. “People are vulnerable and hurting. Let’s make sure we look out for each other as friends, as neighbours, as a community. Support local businesses wherever you can for those that remain open. That messaging is still important.”
In response to the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had economically, Community Futures East Kootenay (CFEK) has also taken steps to help local businesses and entrepreneurs. Firstly, they have created a Payment Relief Program for their clients where they will be suspending interest and waiving fees roughly until the end of June. Secondly, the CFEK is offering one repayable term loan product wherein local businesses can apply for an emergency loan of up to $20,000 to help them remain operational or cope with what these uncertain times are bringing.
In addition to the federal government assisting with Employment Insurance Benefits (EI), they are also introducing Emergency Care Benefits and Emergency Support Benefits for those affected by COVID-19 but who do not qualify for EI. Ultimately it is in everyone’s best interest to review the measures taken by the Federal Government of Canada, and other local organizations, to offset financial impacts at this time, as many will directly affect local businesses and economies.