Coronavirus: Cancellation of CNE, festivals leaves vendors struggling to make ends meet

Click to play video: 'Ontario artists calling for support as income plummets amid coronavirus pandemic' Ontario artists calling for support as income plummets amid coronavirus pandemic
WATCH ABOVE: As concerts, fairs and large gatherings face cancellations this summer, many businesses are grappling with the economic fallout due to the coronavirus pandemic. This includes independent artists who spend the warm weather weekends travelling across Ontario. Miranda Anthistle has the story of one artist adapting to the new reality – May 15, 2020

Festival vendors were dealt another huge blow during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic when it was announced the 2020 edition of the Canadian National Exhibition was cancelled.

“The CNE is the entire year’s income. Losing it is huge… you can’t just go online and replace those sales numbers,” said Kimberly Harvey, a previously scheduled vendor at “The Ex” in August.

It’s one of many signature summer events in the Greater Toronto Area cancelled in the wake of the pandemic and some organizers are looking even further ahead by shutting down festivals in the fall as well.

READ MORE: Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition cancelled for 2nd time in history

“I literally don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent and bills in July… and that should be when I’m in the middle of making my year’s income because we’re very seasonal,” explained Harvey, who owns My Lil Gem and makes handcrafted jewelry.

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Most festival vendors invest tens of thousands of dollars in the winter towards buying supplies, making their inventory, as well as securing booths at festivals and paying equipment and event fees.

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Their main source of income falls during the summer months and with large events still not allowed to take place, Harvey said it’s leaving vendors in a precarious position.

“We’re going to end up losing houses and businesses shutting down — happen within a few weeks if don’t look at long-term plans,” she said.

READ MORE: Feds announce COVID-19 relief fund for seasonal, tourism companies

Considered a microbusiness, vendors don’t qualify for many of the same government supports as small businesses because they tend to run their operations through a personal account and they don’t have payrolls.

“If you’re not incorporated, you can’t get the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan,” said Dan Kelly, CEO and president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“It’s a shame. The program needs to be opened up to make sure the self-employed can get it and we’re pushing for it every single day.”

Harvey has been able to access the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which the federal government has now extended to August. But with large events cancelled for the foreseeable future, she said she is feeling disheartened.

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READ MORE: Small business owners feel impacts of COVID-19 pandemic

“It’s tough… it’s really tough trying to figure out what we’re going to do moving forward,” Harvey said.

I’m hoping there will be changes and there will be something that will sustain us through to next year.”

Harvey has moved her business online, but she said sales are low and the cost of advertising is expensive.

To raise awareness at all government levels about how festival vendors are falling through the cracks, she started an online petition.

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