A staggering 38 per cent of small businesses currently closed in Metro Vancouver are unsure if they can reopen even when restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted, according to a recent survey.
The survey of 1,284 member businesses from the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and the Business Council of British Columbia found eight per cent of businesses currently closed have decided they can’t reopen.
“Businesses are doing everything possible to remain viable, but an increasing number are reaching the point of no return,” Greater Vancouver Board of Trade president Bridgitte Anderson said.
“There is a small window to support the survival and eventual recovery of a significant number of businesses and it is, to a great extent, reliant on the scale and speed of government support.”
The survey, conducted with the assistance of the Mustel Group, is the second in a series of “pulse checks.” Unlike a typical poll, this report focuses on members of the three business organizations that agreed to participate.
Approximately half of all businesses said they have experienced revenue drops of more than 75 per cent, while two-thirds have had revenues drop by 50 per cent or more.
Businesses say government programs have provided some relief, but many still feel left out. Just over half of businesses believe the federal government programs announced to date will be helpful once implemented, but they are not helpful for 33 per cent of businesses, primarily because they do not qualify for any programs or the programs don’t provide enough cash-flow relief.
Provincial programs are criticized by 35 per cent of businesses responded to the survey, which do not find the provincial programs helpful for the same reasons as federal programs.
A huge number (70 per cent) of businesses are pointing to attracting customers/revenue as the biggest challenge to recovery. Half of the businesses are unsure what percentage of typical sales or revenues will be required to restart their business, with estimates ranging from less than 30 per cent to more than 70 per cent.
“Larger businesses remain concerned about their liquidity generally, and the speed and scope of support measures for employee wages,” Business Council of British Columbia CEO Greg D’Avignon said.
“While governments and the Bank of Canada have done much in the face of the COVID-19 crisis on these two measures to date, the announced programs have not reached the scale necessary to adequately mitigate the impacts of reduced sales and revenue volumes, operating cost increases or cancelled and deferred capital projects.”
The third-largest private-sector employer in the province is the hospitality and restaurant industry.
Dr. Bonnie Henry says the industry needs to lead the way in coming up with ways to reopen to ensure physical distancing takes place. Henry says there should be no gatherings in large groups where the province says there is high risk, both of spreading the coronavirus to each other and risk to staff in a restaurant, for example.
“There are lots of innovative ways that people can get around that. And we have seen some of that with the takeout services,” Henry said.
“It’s not going to be back to what we were before, unfortunately, for a time. I am looking to industry to come up with those ideas of how this could work. It’s going to be a challenge, I understand, for many — particularly small — restaurants in the coming months.”