Calgary small businesses continue to see COVID hangover

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COVID hangover continues for many Canadian small businesses
WATCH: The pandemic continues to put a pause on many small businesses including boutique fitness studios struggling to pay their bills and pay back government loans. Tomasia DaSilva reports. – Dec 6, 2023

The pandemic may not be top-of-mind for most people these days, but many Calgary businesses are still dealing with the fallout.

It’s been an especially tough comeback for many fitness centres and gyms, with smaller, boutique-style operations reporting ongoing struggles.

“We lost millions,” YYC Cycle Spin Studio CEO Andrew Obrecht told Global News.

The company has five locations — four in Alberta and one in B.C — all of which were shut down during the pandemic. They all reopened and Obrecht said business has picked up, but not enough to pay back all of the debt incurred during the shutdown.

“The amounts of the loans from the pandemic were just insurmountable,” Obrecht said.

This led to the recent shutdown of one of the Edmonton locations: YEG Cycle Spin Studio – Jasper Ave, he said.

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“A week ago, we had a lender show up to one of our studios and pull out all of our bikes,” Obrecht said. “They just showed up. They rolled up with moving bikes and started taking them out.”

Obrecht said the other studios would have faced the same fate, but they’ve been given a new lease on life after an investor came in and signed new leases.

“We had to find an investor and that investor saved the community.”

Over at Yoga Passage Studios, the owner has also had to do what she can to save her business.

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“I have restructured my business,” Kristin Jostad told Global News. “Before the pandemic I had expanded my offerings and now I’m just pulling back into yoga. It’s what is best for me and my business, my clientele and my team.”

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Jostad says people’s habits have changed.  Many of her clients used to live in downtown Calgary, but now they work from home. Many, she said, also workout from home and no longer come into the physical facility.

What has been coming in she said, is the bills for her government loans.

“I took significant loans out,” she told Global News.

“I think I speak for myself, but likely other business owners, we just kept taking out more loans thinking that we were going to be open and we were going to be thriving in the next month. So, the stress and financial obligations of taking those loans out are significant.”

Loans due soon

Many businesses are worried about surviving as the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan repayment deadline approaches.

The federal program offered up to $60,000 in interest-free loans to help businesses and non-profits survive government shutdowns.

But according to statistics from a Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) survey in September, only 34 per cent of businesses said they’re able to pay off their CEBA loan by Jan. 18, 2024. That’s when the deadline is to save the loan’s forgivable portion, which can be up to $20,000.

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Over half say they question if they can stay in business if they don’t get the forgivable portion.

YYC Cycle. Global Calgary

Both Obrecht and Jostad are optimistic they will survive, adding it’s imperative for two reasons — the health of their clients and the health of small businesses.

“It’s more important than ever to have that connection for your physical and mental health,” Obrecht said.

“Small businesses are run by people that take the chance, that take the initiative to create special offerings and create community,” Jostad pointed out.

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