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‘On the brink’: Burnaby restaurant owners face staggering debt amid COVID-19

Small Burnaby restaurants being replaced by global companies with deep pockets.
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Burnaby restaurants have worked hard to comply with COVID-19 rules. Getty Images

The latest Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) dashboard says that only 35 per cent of B.C. businesses have returned to normal sales, while debt levels and the share of businesses considering bankruptcy remain high.

The Burnaby restaurant owners I’ve spoken to in the past week agree, saying that while sales are getting better as people become more confident in eating out, and restrictions loosen, they are nowhere near being enough to recover the staggering losses.

“I’m on the brink,” said one owner as we chatted over a meal. “If my lease was coming up for renewal, I would just shut it down because I can’t make that kind of commitment. I’m in total survivor mode and bracing for another wave of COVID to hit. My life’s savings is gone and this is all I have.”

Other small restaurant owners in Burnaby have closed forever, including Zeus, Chez Meme, Pearl House and Cozmos. The Study at SFU is closed, but may reopen again one day. New restaurants are taking over many of these spaces, but by global chains that have deep pockets.

It’s small, independent businesses that are really struggling.

“While its good news that COVID restrictions have started to lift across B.C., the economic damage to small business has been massive and has left many in a very precarious position,” said Annie Dormuth, BC provincial affairs director. “It’s critical that as we enter recovery phase of the pandemic, the B.C. government provides immediate cost relief to businesses. The provincial budget a couple weeks ago was a missed opportunity to do that, but it’s not too late for the government to act now.”

In B.C., two thirds of businesses (68 per cent) report taking on debt, at an average of $226,700 per business. In addition, one in seven (14 per cent) of B.C. small businesses are actively considering bankruptcy or permanently winding down operations.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.