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Opinion: ‘I’m hanging on by my fingernails,’ says Burnaby restaurant owner

New provincial funds could be too little, too late
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One thing that bugs me about people’s reaction to the health orders that have closed indoor dining is how they say “it’s only for a few weeks.”

Well, not so fast.

The order is supposed to run until April 19, but with COVID-19 cases surging well past 1,000 a day – hitting 1,300 according to the Thursday update – there’s no guarantee it will be lifted.

But even if it does, this has driven another hole into the revenues of Burnaby restaurants that were already struggling after a year of down business, including several months of closures.

“I’m hanging on by my fingernails right now,” said the owner of a restaurant in Burnaby. He didn’t want his restaurant named because he says the stink of poor businesses can doom an eatery. But he was willing to unload to me. “I get that things are bad, but I don’t know why restaurants were pretty much singled out and not other businesses. We’ve never recovered from last spring and now we have at least several weeks of lost revenue. Our staff have also lost out on a lot of money as well.”

Not every restaurant can pivot to take out dining on a significant level, he said, because food delivery apps take 30% from restaurants and some food just doesn’t travel well.

Other restaurants are able to open their patios, with a stretch of sunny weather coming.

Another Hastings restaurant owner told me they are trying to apply to allow patio dining in their parking lot. It’s not appetizing, but they are “desperate.”

The provincial government did announce a funding pool of $50 million to help the 14,000 restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries, gyms and fitness centres affected by the March 30 health orders that closed all indoor dining and group fitness gatherings until April 19.

The new Circuit Breaker Business Relief Grant gives those businesses up to $10,000 to help with expenses such as rent, insurance, employee wages, maintenance and utilities. The grant can also help cover unexpected costs that resulted from the restrictions, such as the purchase of perishable goods.

Ken Beattie, executive director of the B.C. Craft Brewers Guild, said he appreciates the quick action by government to address concerns after the March 30 order. “We welcome this additional support as our 200-plus members across B.C. navigate the difficult weeks ahead,” he said. “From patios to growler sales to direct support for small business, every bit helps.”

The latest funds are being pulled from the $345-million Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant program, and the amount a business receives will be based on the number of employees.

Ravi Kahlon, minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation, said the majority of eligible businesses are expected to receive a grant of $5,000.

Requirements for applicants include a business or liquor licence, notice of assessment or lease agreement, a confirmation of majority ownership and operations and payment of taxes in B.C.

Applications will open the week of April 12 and will close on June 4, or until the funds are dispersed.

To register to receive an email notification when applications open, businesses can visit: gov.bc.ca/business-relief.

With files from the Victoria Times Colonist.