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Small businesses struggle as more are forced to close in response to COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Atlantic business continue to close amidst coronavirus uncertainty' Atlantic business continue to close amidst coronavirus uncertainty
More retailers across the region are announcing temporary closures as the result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new measures on Friday, but as Alicia Draus reports, some say it doesn’t go far enough – Mar 18, 2020

The list of businesses required to close are growing by the day.

During a press conference in Halifax on Wednesday, Premier Stephen McNeil announced effective Thursday, personal services and fitness establishments including hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, body art establishments and gyms must shut down.

This follows the announcement from Tuesday that restaurants would have to close their doors by Thursday, leaving only the ability to offer take-out or delivery. All drinking establishments are also required to shut down.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 5 new presumptive cases in Nova Scotia, bringing provincial total to 12

So far, retail is allowed to remain open. But already many stores are choosing to close, from larger chains like IKEA, to smaller stores like Biscuit General Store on Argyle street in Halifax.

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The decision to close has been difficult, but safety is cited as a top priority. And  for many, sales just aren’t there.

A recent survey by CFIB has found that 50 per cent of small businesses have reported a drop in sales due to COVID-19, with a quarter saying they won’t survive a month if the pandemic continues to significantly cut their income.

For the Maritime Tartan Company, a small businesses that runs out of a home in the North End, March was supposed to be a busy month.

“We were supposed to do some work for the Junos, the East Coast Music Awards, and for the cruise pavilion and a lot of small tourist stores,” said owner Sherrie Kearney. But over the past week that’s all been cancelled.

“We’ve pre-ordered of course fabric to make all these things,” said Kearney. “Now we don’t have the orders.”

Click to play video: 'Restaurant and bars to begin shutting down in New Brunswick, Halifax' Restaurant and bars to begin shutting down in New Brunswick, Halifax
Restaurant and bars to begin shutting down in New Brunswick, Halifax – Mar 17, 2020

Kearney says despite hard times they’re hopeful they’ll pull through, noting that they have fewer overhead costs than other businesses because they work at home and run an online store.

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But other businesses are concerned about bills piling up, and income drying up.

“The rent and lease are obviously pretty major, and our software and phone bills,” said Jamie Melrose, co-owner of Props Floral Design.

For now the business remains open, but they’ve already had to let go of staff to cut spending wherever possible.

“When I had to do that, I just wanted to cry,” she said.

Co-owner of Props Floral Design Jayme Melrose says they’re trying to stay open as long as possible but have already been forced to lay-off staff. Alicia Draus / Global News

Melrose says she’s been adhering to public health guidelines, ramping up cleaning, but is also considering closing the store to customers, taking orders by phone, and having customers pick up outside.

Similar measures are being taken at stores across the city.

Tim Rissesco, executive director of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission says while many stores there have closed their store fronts they’re finding alternative ways to do business – mostly online.

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“Like music lessons, that’ll be done by skype,” he said.

Restaurants are focusing on take-out and delivery and companies that can are doing business by phone. But the big challenge for many is the uncertainty.

“Is it going to be two weeks, or is it going to be 12 weeks? We just don’t know yet,” said Melrose.

On Wednesday the Prime Minister announced economic measures to help Canadians, including introducing unemployment benefits for those who don’t qualify for Employment Insurance, and providing wage subsidies to incentivise companies to keep on staff.

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

But for many small businesses, there are concerns the new measures do little to help keep them afloat as bills keep coming and income goes down dramatically.

Rissesco says he would like to see some relief measures for landlords which could in turn be passed on to both businesses and residents.

“To help people skip rent payments during this time, and during the shut down, something like that could help a lot of our businesses,” said Rissesco.

Melrose says she’ll need to review the new measures introduced by Trudeau to see if any will help her business, but she says she has always supported the idea of a basic income for everyone, and she feels strongly about that now more than ever.

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“It feels like this is a situation that really proves how amazing it would be if everyone just got some basic money in order to survive

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