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Coronavirus: Montreal business owners struggle as revenues dry up amid pandemic

Montreal business owners struggle as revenues dry up amid COVID-19 pandemic
While many small businesses are forced to close amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some are trying to keep employees on the payroll. Global's Tim Sargeant reports.

From the streets of downtown Montreal to the bedroom communities of the West Island, many businesses are closed as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, their employees furloughed.

One lingerie merchant owner has closed her two shops and is now trying to survive with online sales and phone orders — something that’s novel for the independent company.

“There is definitely an economic impact on myself, on my employees. And not just right now. This scares me as to how long this is going take,” Debbie Donelle, owner of Lingerie DEBra, told Global News via Skype.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Nearly 1 million Canadians applied for EI last week

Donelle is the only worker in her shops as the seven other employees have been sent home. Donelle is still issuing them paycheques adding up to 75 per cent of the salaries but that could end by the end of the week.

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“It could be that I keep that I’m going to have to lay them off. It could be that I keep them on my payroll but again reduce that amount because I can’t cover 75 per cent,” she said.

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Global News has learned that the employment insurance claims during the week of March 16 to 22 hit 929,000 — almost double the previous week.

Montreal businesses feeling effects of COVID-19 fears
Montreal businesses feeling effects of COVID-19 fears

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents 110,000 small- and medium-sized businesses across the country, reports the average business has now lost $136,000 in lost revenues due to COVID-19. That amount has double since last week.

“It is unprecedented economic crisis, something we have never seen before,” Jasmin Guénette, CFIB National Affairs V.P., told Global News.

Guénette says he welcomes the Prime Minister’s aid package of $2,000/month to workers for the next four months. But the CFIB issued a press release stating direct subsidies to workers would help keep them employed.

“A direct wage subsidy to employers will be a far faster way to ensure workers are paid,” the statement reads.

READ MORE: Coronavirus support package rejigs benefits for workers hit by pandemic

A West Island trucking company is also struggling during these uncertain times.

Shawn Lemaire, owner of LSKL Trucking, tells Global News the volatility in the economy due to the global pandemic is leading to a lot of sleepless nights.

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Another concern is maintaining social distancing with clients and ensuring his drivers are safe. Lemaire makes sure all his trucks are stocked with disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers.

But the truck owner says there is little he can do about proper hygiene at truck stops.

“As much as the truck stops and rest areas do their best to be clean, it would be impossible for them to clean up after every person that went in there,” Lemaire told Global News from inside his cab in Pittston, Pennsylvania.