Small business owners try to survive

New Normal: Many people in Canada, including small business owners, are tuning in to daily updates from the federal government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shared information on new financial aid packages. (Photo by Shelby Daughton/The Press)

Small business owners in Calgary are trying to survive financially after being forced to close their doors to limit the spread of COVID-19.

In March 2020, the Government of Alberta announced new restrictions to close non-essential retail businesses. This includes non-essential beauty and health services such as gyms, salons, and dance studios. 

The Government of Canada has announced the Canada Emergency Business Account which will allow small businesses to apply for up to $40,000 in guaranteed interest-free bank loans. 

Solita Work, the owner of Reworks Upcycle Shop, feels that this offer falls short for small business owners. 

“Any small business owner is not going to take out a $40,000 interest-free loan,” said Work. “Why would you ever take out a loan, when you’re not even sure [if] you’re going to be able to pay it back?” 

Work suggests that one potential option could be for the federal government to consider implementing a universal basic income.  

“There are all these different kinds of aid packages, that require all different levels of applications,” said Work. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just have a universal basic income, and figure out what people need as basic necessities to cover food, rent, and all the incidentals?” 

Work has been forced to close her shop, which sells sustainable gifts, décor, and art made from recycled waste.  

She hopes that her online store will provide her with some income, but she acknowledges that money is tight for many Canadians. 

Work says she is concerned about the worst-case scenario which would be losing her business. 

“I’m super concerned about it,” said Work. “I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into the shop. I hadn’t thought about doing something else.” 

Dana Blonde, the owner of The Yoga Shala in Calgary, says that the federal government’s financial options for small businesses are not enough.  

She believes that taking out a loan and going into debt is too risky because of future economic uncertainties. 

“I’m not willing to do that to myself,” said Blonde. “I’ve put myself now [as my] first priority. I have to protect myself.” 

Blonde has been affected by the lack of revenue and is worried about being able to pay rent on her studio space for the months that it will be closed. 

“That’s a lot of money for me to go into debt and pay [for] an empty space,” said Blonde. 

The Yoga Shala has started to offer online yoga classes, which have been well-received by her customers.  

Blonde says that her business is a safe space and provides customers with a sense of community. 

Even though there are over 30 online class offerings a week, Blonde worries that the revenue may only be enough to pay her yoga teachers. 

Theresa Tucci is the owner of Free Spirit Dance in Calgary, which has also started offering online classes. 

For Tucci, the best-case-scenario is survival. 

“The best case is that what little funds I have can carry me through, and I come out of this, and I’m at least able to feed myself and get through the next year without going under,” said Tucci.  

Tucci thinks the federal government’s Canada Emergency Business Account is a joke. 

“What they’re asking us to do is to carry the debt of what’s happening,” said Tucci. 

I’m super concerned about it. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into [the shop]. I hadn’t thought about doing something else. – Solita Work

Tucci says that when non-essential retail businesses can reopen, the struggle will be finding Calgarians who have money to spend on extras in the service industry, like dance classes.

Whether small businesses in Calgary will survive in this tough economic time or not is a waiting game, but Solita Work hopes that this outbreak will result in positive future changes.

“I’m certain that we’ll have other disasters or pandemics or whatever,” said Work. “What can we do to start building a system that supports everybody, so that we’re more resilient when things like this happen? I guess that’s what I’m hoping we’ll get out of it. I’m hoping we’ll see some real social change.”