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Small business struggles amid coronavirus pandemic ‘very real’ in Manitoba: CFIB

Restaurant owner Obby Khan says he's been forced to close his newest Shawarma Khan location due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Restaurant owner Obby Khan says he's been forced to close his newest Shawarma Khan location due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Global News / File

The federal government’s announcement on Wednesday that additional economic measures will be put in place to help Canadian workers and businesses amid the novel coronavirus pandemic may come as welcome news to struggling business owners.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government will spend up to $82 billion, including $27 billion in direct support for Canadian workers and businesses, and that the money will be disseminated through a combination of direct supports for workers and businesses and tax deferrals.

READ MORE: Trudeau unveils $82B in aid for families, business amid coronavirus uncertainty

According to research by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), half of Canada’s small firms have seen a drop in sales due to the economic effects of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, with four in 10 reporting a more than 25 per cent decrease.

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Jonathan Alward, director of provincial affairs with the Manitoba branch of the CFIB, told 680 CJOB he was aware that business owners have been struggling to deal with the crisis, but seeing the numbers on paper makes everything “very real.”

“It’s definitely not getting better,” he said.

“Today, in Manitoba, for those that have been impacted, the average cost has been about $44,000 already, so we’re really trying to call on governments, call on consumers to support small business right now.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — What’s open, closed — and cancelled — in Manitoba

Alward said St. Patrick’s Day was a perfect example of how the restaurant industry, in particular, is being affected. It’s one of the biggest days of the year for many bars, pubs and restaurants, but many had to close or pivot to delivery only due to the pandemic.

“I know yesterday we were fielding calls from members who are looking at reducing staff hours, unfortunately having to lay staff off, shut their doors altogether,” he said.

“They don’t make those decisions lightly. They want to support their staff, they want to keep everything afloat.

“Whenever this pandemic is over and life returns back to more normal, they want to make sure there’s a business there for those employees to come back to. It weighs heavily on them.”

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READ MORE: Coronavirus — How the Emergencies Act could help Canada’s struggling economy

Winnipeg businesses have been vocal about their concerns, with everything from cannabis stores to restaurants to music venues having to shut their doors in light of the crisis.

Local restaurateur Obby Khan told 680 CJOB on Tuesday that he’s been forced to close his newest Shawarma Khan location.

“No one was coming. The traffic had just dried up on that side of downtown,” he said.

“Sales yesterday were absolutely dismal, and unfortunately, SkipTheDishes and DoorDash weren’t enough for us to stay open.

“We’re losing money… so we had no choice but to shut the doors. People aren’t around to support it so it’s really sad.”

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Khan said he’ll be paying his full-time staff out of his own pocket during the crisis, and he’s had to lay off all of his part-time workers.

Park Theatre owner Erick Casselman said the popular local venue started cancelling shows on the weekend.

“We cleared out our entire March calendar and are starting to clear out the entire April calendar, just to be safe and to be cautious and to get ahead of the curve,” he said.

“A lot of it has been postponements or return of deposits on rental, return of ticket sales… logistically, it’s been a nightmare because we’re trying to clear out an entire calendar and trying to squeeze it into other spots where we can.”

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Coronavirus outbreak: Health official says ‘all Manitobans have a role to play’ in limiting virus spread
Coronavirus outbreak: Health official says ‘all Manitobans have a role to play’ in limiting virus spread