The strain on family businesses during COVID-19

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The strain on family businesses during COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: Family businesses are facing tough decisions while trying to balance home and work during the pandemic. Kendra Slugoski has more in Family Matters. – Mar 11, 2021

Small businesses across the country have been trying to stay afloat and work through a year of pandemic restrictions.

Many are family owned and have been forced to make tough decisions.

Kirsten Proulx, co-owner of Henry’s Interiors on the trendy 124 street in Edmonton, Alta., called this year the toughest on her mental and physical health.

After running their storefront for nearly 12 years, Proulx and her sister made the agonizing decision not renew their lease.

With no certainty in sight, slumping sales and a drop in foot-traffic, the pair closed their storefront.

“You know it didn’t really hit me until this week,” said Proulx, “but yeah, there’s been some big ups and downs this week.

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Proulx said the closure was a family decision and throughout the years it was family that helped make it successful.

“Your family is your cheerleaders,” said Proulx. “They see your pain and your suffering and the struggles that you have. Then they take that on as well.”

Henry’s Interiors will continue with online sales and focus on transitioning its design services online as well.

Nathan Satanove, owner of Pasta Pantry in Sherwood Park, Alta., said running any business at the best of times is a “roller-coaster of emotions and a learning curve.” Adding in a year-long battle with health restrictions you cannot control is something you can never be prepared for.

“It’s been a challenge,” said Satanove. “Ultimately, we had to close one of our locations permanently which is something I still haven’t wrapped my head around.”

Satanove had just opened the second Pasta Pantry location prior to the pandemic. The stress and guilt of laying off workers has taken a toll.

“I’m dealing with an amazing family legacy and I take great pride and responsibility in what we do,” said Satanove. “You try not to have negative thoughts in your mind, because I find for myself, that’s kind of poison.”

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Founded by his parents in 1992, Satanove took over the restaurant and catering business in 2008.

His wife Carissa helps with administration while running the household.

“She’s in the trenches as well,” said Satanove, “and it’s good to have a supportive partner.

“I’m lucky, I have an amazing wife. She’s the glue of our family.”

Both parents try to check their emotions at the door and focus on their sons, Ari, 6, and Zayn, 4.

“I think there are some days they definitely sense there’s something going on,” said Satanove, “but we try to compensate. Like our dining room is the official mini-stick hockey arena now, something that likely wouldn’t have happened pre-COVID.”

Along with trying to be positive at home, Satanove said he can’t help but think about his extended restaurant family.

“We’ve been around for 29 years in Sherwood Park and I have some team members who have been around for more than 10 years. So they are my family.

“When I go to bed at night I think about not only how I pay my bills, but how they’re going to pay theirs.”

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Annie Dormuth, with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said increasingly small businesses are under strain and could soon have no choice but to shut their doors.

“Seventeen per cent of small businesses are considering closing because of the pandemic,” said Dormuth, “which equates to around 180,000 small businesses across the country.”

She said restaurants, hotels, recreation play places and gym owners have been hit especially hard over the course of the pandemic.

“They are the sectors that have incurred the most debt.”

The CFIB said the extension of federal rental and wage subsidy programs has helped, but new businesses are still not able to access the supports.

“They’ve been in a precarious situation through entire pandemic,” said Dormuth. “One has to consider that their plans to open up a business could have started in 2019 and they simply have to because they have loans to repay and they have contracts to uphold.”

A CFIB survey done in late 2020 asked small business owners what else has impacted owners besides the loss in revenue. Dormuth said around half of those who responded cited psychological stress and nearly half said they are working longer hours to pick up the slack.

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Around 40 per cent cancelled plans to expand or invest in their business.

“They’ve been under a lot of stress this year,” said Dormuth, “and I think that’s further enhanced if you are a family owned and operated business…. that is the sole provider of your family and your livelihood.”

Satanove said he will continue to adapt with the ongoing changes and “his heart” goes out to every business owner right now.

“When someone comes through our doors you don’t know what struggle they’re going through.”

He vowed to keep catering to his loyal customers.

Proulx said she will work to adjust her business to the online world but said losing the storefront is like losing a part of her family.


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