Tea shop is closing its branch in Oak Bay amid pandemic pressures

Owners of an Oak Bay Avenue tea shop are shutting the store permanently, one of the small businesses that have fallen victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tiffanie and Kip Home temporarily closed both their Just Matcha Tea Shop at 2021 Oak Bay Ave. and their 544 Pandora Ave. location in mid-March because of the outbreak.

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They initially hoped to reopen both stores, but they couldn’t pay rent for April for the Oak Bay site and don’t have the money for May.

They were not able to come to an agreement with their landlord and have decided to close the seven-year-old store permanently.

The couple, parents of two daughters, ages eight and 15, hope they will be able to re-open on Pandora. In the meantime, they are filling online orders. “But it isn’t very much,” Kip said.

The downtown landlord has deferred rent for now, “which was nice of him,” he said.

But even a short closure hits small businesses hard. “It’s tough because these things add up,” Kip said. “I’m not going to triple my revenues when it opens again and you need to do that in order to cover the rent for the three months that you missed.”

Cruise ships are not coming in. Events are cancelled. “We are not really sure what downtown is going to be like.”

The Homes, who have two partners in the business, say that like other small business owners, they don’t know what the future holds for their only source of revenue.

They opted to keep the downtown location because it is normally busier and the space is larger, allowing them to display a wider range of products.

The business had begun ramping up for what had been anticipated to be a busy season, starting in April with the return of tourists. “You tend to spend a lot of money in January and February updating inventory, buying all of these things you need for the coming busy season and it leaves you pretty empty from a cash-reserve perspective,” Kip said.

Tiffanie said these past weeks have taken them on an emotional rollercoaster. “When your livelihood is tied to small business, it is sleepless nights.”

While they love running their business, “If it goes down, you go down,” she said.

The Homes have not been able to find a government program to assist them, but are continuing to investigate.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, representing 110,000 members, said this week that rent relief is “urgently needed.” More than half (58%) of small businesses surveyed by the group said they won’t be able to pay May’s rent without some kind of assistance, and many fear they might be forced to close permanently.

Laura Jones, executive vice-president of the federation, said deferring rent “isn’t going to cut it,” arguing businesses desperately need rent forgiveness to help pay bills.

The federal government announced a program last week to support rent for commercial enterprises, and businesses are eager to learn the details, she said. Bills are mounting for businesses and revenue isn’t coming in.

The federation is urging that rental support costs be shared by governments, landlords and tenants.

“April 1 was scary and it’s important to get the right government relief in place fast to prevent May 1 from being a nightmare on Main Street,” Jones said.

The survey was based on 6,881 responses received online between April 17 to 19. No margin of error is assigned to online polls.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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