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Newer Lethbridge businesses say they don’t qualify for government support amid COVID-19

Click to play video '‘There’s no support’: Newer Lethbridge businesses don’t qualify for government support amid COVID-19' ‘There’s no support’: Newer Lethbridge businesses don’t qualify for government support amid COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: The operators of The Canadian Brewhouse in Lethbridge are trying to stay afloat, following dining room closures across Alberta earlier this month. Eloise Therien has more on why certain businesses don't qualify for government support, and what can be done. – Dec 22, 2020

The province of Alberta and the federal government provide support for businesses struggling due to the pandemic, but some businesses don’t qualify, depending on when they opened their doors.

Trevor Lewington, executive director with Economic Development Lethbridge, says he has seen several businesses find themselves in this situation.

“The government does need some sort of measure to say ‘yes, you were negatively impacted,’ so there has to be a point of comparison,” he explained. “If a business started more recently — June, July, or even later — there’s really no basis upon which the government can make those comparisons.”

Tyler Harvey, owner and general manager of The Canadian Brewhouse in Lethbridge, says he decided three years ago to pursue the venture of joining a franchise, moving from Lloydminster to the bigger city.

“We made the decision that Lethbridge was a place we wanted to move and wanted to open a business,” he explained. “(We were) really excited about getting that going.”

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Read more: Revamped coronavirus business relief programs unveiled as 2nd wave surges

While the goal was to open their doors at the Mayor Magrath Drive location in March, COVID-19 delayed those plans.

The location was eventually able to open at half-capacity in June, but Harvey says it’s been a tough process from the beginning.

“We opened the doors, and you know, mixed feelings,” Harvey admitted. “Obviously, some people are a little more careful than others, but overall we were busy, busy, busy.”

However, when new COVID-19 restrictions were implemented on Dec. 13, restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms to help curb the spread of the virus.

Harvey says he’s had to lay off a large portion of their 200 staff, not able to provide support due to their summer opening date. They’re currently relying on take-out and delivery orders like many other restaurants in the area.

“Now we’re closed again but there’s no support,” he said. “We don’t have wage subsidy, we don’t have grants, there’s no rent support — there’s nothing.”

Read more: Alberta businesses react to new, tighter COVID-19 restrictions

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While Harvey says he has tried contacting government officials, including local MPs, they haven’t had any luck.

Lewington advises all businesses to check government programs very carefully and regularly, so as not to miss any changes or updates.

“Even though at first glance it might not appear like you’re eligible, make the phone calls, do the due diligence, see if there’s opportunities,” Lewington said.

“Many of those programs are being updated literally week-to-week.”

While restaurants have been hard hit by the new restrictions, retailer Lethbridge Meats and Seafoods is still able to have its shop open for people to come pick out their own ingredients for meals.

Owner Rhonda Roth says they’ve been seeing typical levels of business compared to previous years. With Christmas fast approaching, she says they’ve been selling smaller meals and fewer snack trays, but is seeing a potential increase in those interested in at-home cooking.

“Possibly (they’re) buying gift certificates so that people can come buy their own stuff to cook at home as opposed to perhaps buying gift certificates from restaurants in the past.”

Roth adds she’s lucky to still be in business, but retailers have also been impacted by the restrictions put into place last weekend.

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“We’re busy, as we normally are, but it does make it a little more challenging with dealing with curbside pickup, and then also only allowing four people in the store.”

Current provincial restrictions, including those for restaurants, are in effect until at least Jan. 12.