‘Like a stab to the belly’: Lethbridge business survey reveals struggles during COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Survey shows how Lethbridge businesses are doing amid COVID-19 pandemic' Survey shows how Lethbridge businesses are doing amid COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH: A survey done in Lethbridge has revealed how more than 250 local businesses are doing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Danica Ferris has more. – Apr 24, 2020

The Lethbridge Region Economic Recovery Task Force has released the results of a survey completed by business owners during the COVID-19 crisis.

The survey received 256 responses between April 9 and 20.

“Seventy-four of those came from within the region, and the remainder — 182 — came from within the city of Lethbridge itself,” said Trevor Lewington, CEO of Economic Development Lethbridge, on Friday.

Of those respondents, the task force classified 75 per cent as small businesses, with fewer than 20 employees, and 21 per cent as medium-sized businesses with 20 to 99 workers.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Lethbridge small businesses grapple with extended closures

Fifty-one per cent of the businesses that took the survey have reduced staff. One of those businesses is O2 Training Centre, where owner and head trainer Justin Tavernini was forced to lay off all of his staff after he was ordered to close his doors to gym-goers.

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“It was like a stab to the belly, having to close your business,” said Tavernini. “I’m 10 years in the game, and it’s been my life over the last little while.

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Travernini’s usually bustling gym now sits empty, except for over the noon hour each day when he films at-home workout videos for members and the public.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Lethbridge non-profits adapt to fewer donations, volunteers while fundraisers up in the air

The business owner said he understands why membership numbers have dropped, as people can’t physically go to the gym, but he is working hard to ensure that those who keep their memberships are still paying for a valuable service.

“Keeping our memberships going to keep some kind of income coming in during this time, it’s been struggling,” he said.

“I don’t blame people. Not too many people out there are going to want to pay a gym membership for a gym that’s closed, but our gym’s a little bit different — it’s a community.”

O2 Training Centre is currently only open for retail sales of merchandise and supplements and is providing workouts through an online portal that non-members can buy for $5 each.

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Tavernini’s struggles ring true for a lot of Lethbridge business owners.

Survey results from the task force show that nearly 80 per cent of businesses reported a reduction in sales.

When asked how long they could survive in the current climate without additional support, more than a third said one to three months.

READ MORE: Trudeau announces rent relief of 75% for small businesses affected by coronavirus

Lewington said that after labour costs, rent and mortgage payments were one of the biggest worries for respondents, with 18 per cent reporting they didn’t think they would have the money to pay rent in May.

But on Friday morning, some relief came from the federal government as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance.

The program will lower rent for small businesses affected by COVID-19 by 75 per cent.

Eligible businesses include those paying less than $50,000 per month in rent who have temporarily ceased operations or have experienced at least a 70 per cent drop in pre-COVID-19 revenues.

Tavernini said he plans to apply for the rent assistance and believes his business will come out on the other side of COVID-19 still intact — but what that looks like, he isn’t sure.

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“That’s a different story. We might have to revamp our business model. We might have to revamp our location. [There are] certain things up in the air right now,” he said.

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