Startup businesses, shut out by bad timing, plead for government relief

A group of small businesses, shut out of government pandemic relief measures due to bad timing, have banded together to try and get their voices heard and catch a break before they’re forced to close their doors for good.

About 85 companies, many from Victoria, that planned to open before the pandemic hit and then got caught up in the closures and lack of business as COVID-19 took hold, have created a group called Save Startups to lobby for help.

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“We’re all in a pretty tough spot and, unfortunately, we don’t seem to be making much progress,” said co-organizer Peter Wood, owner of the Bear & Joey restaurant in Victoria. “They [politicians] say they feel for us and they know there is a gap [in relief measures] but that doesn’t seem to be translating into much more than ‘sorry to hear that.’ ”

Wood said it’s a scary situation considering the hundreds of thousands of dollars these businesses have put into opening and had committed to their projects before the pandemic hit in March 2020.

Companies registered with Save Startups cover a broad range of sectors including bars and restaurants, retailers, gyms, galleries and service businesses.

Wood said more than $100,000 was spent on Bear & Joey alone before the end of 2019, all but forcing him to try and make a go of things even after the ­pandemic was declared.

Businesses that had a track record dating to 2019 were able to apply for relief measures because they had financial numbers that could be used to determine funding levels — the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy, the Canadian Emergency Rent Subsidy, the Canadian Emergency Business Account and the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program.

But businesses that could not report revenue in 2019 or in January and February of 2020 were shut out of those programs.

Many of them, like Wood, had depleted life savings, pensions and tapped all credit resources to get their businesses ready for market just before the pandemic hit.

Save Startups is pushing the federal government to allow businesses that have fallen through the cracks to access support programs. The group notes these businesses have were completely legally and financially committed prior to the pandemic and face the same operating conditions as their peers but get none of the same support.

Wood said considering the investment these owners have made and the number of people they employ — Bear & Joey, for example, can employ 50 and currently has 30 on the payroll — it defies logic that the government would let them fail rather than open up relief measures to firms that can show revenue from last year.

He said many of the other businesses he’s spoken with would be willing to further extend themselves and spend more money to stay alive if there was some hope the ­government might come to the table and help. But he said without that hope there are few that will keep dumping cash into what seems a bottomless hole.

“The government has locked us down without giving us any kind of hand up,” he said, noting his competition is able to take advantage of wage subsidies and rent breaks. “We can’t operate like this.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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