Saskatchewan small businesses struggle to get back to normal sales despite lifted COVID-19 restrictions

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Sask. businesses looking to recover financially from COVID impacts – Mar 12, 2022

Though all remaining COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, some small businesses in Saskatchewan continue to struggle to get back to normal sales.

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), only 34 per cent of small businesses in the province have returned to normal sales.

CFIB Saskatchewan provincial affairs director Annie Dormuth said some sectors are hurting more than others.

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“Thinking about your local bowling alley, your local gym, as well as those in hospitality — your local restaurant, your local hotel; all of those businesses have been hardest hit throughout this pandemic,” Dormuth said.

CFIB found that one in seven or 15 per cent of Saskatchewan small business are “actively considering bankruptcy or permanently winding down operations.”

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In Saskatchewan, almost two thirds of business or 62 per cent reported taking on debt at an average of $95,188 per business.

“While it might seem like it’s back to normal operations when you drive by a parking lot and it’s full at a local restaurant, however the struggles are still very much a reality for small business owners in the background,” Dormuth added.

With many cancelled tours and shows due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon has seen a significant reduction in attendance, interim executive director Aryn Otterbein said.

“We used to see 85,000 people or more through our doors in a year and this year we’re in the low hundreds,” Otterbein told Global News.

Otterbein said Broadway Theatre has always been taking additional steps beyond the provincial restrictions to keep immunocompromised staff safe but recently went back to 100 per cent capacity.

Face masks and proof of vaccination are still required at the theatre.

“We wanted to make sure that we were putting money in the artists pockets and our community’s pockets and stimulating our industry again as much as we possibly can while still remaining a safe space,” Otterbein said.

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Primal Pasta owner and chef Christie Peters said the pandemic helped their small business streamline.

“I also think that restaurants across Canada, it was very overinflated at that time and there was a lot of debt and risky behaviour in that way,” Peters said.

“I think that the pandemic pared that back and made everyone really realize what was important and have to streamline…to survive.”

Peters said Primal “pivoted hard” and got creative doing takeout.

She also thinks part of it was just luck.

“We were just lucky to have the support and to have the product that people wanted and we put a lot of thought into making ourselves succeed because we had a lot of people that we were supplying jobs to and I didn’t want to let anyone down.”

The CFIB is calling on the provincial government to take a number of steps in its upcoming provincial government, including freezing the small business tax rate at 0 per cent rather than increasing it to 1 per cent on July 1.

They are also asking the government to freeze education property tax mill rates at their new levels, keep labour costs down for small businesses, and provide ongoing cost relief to businesses as they recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

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CFIB also asked that any Saskatchewan carbon tax proposal include measures to offset any new costs associated with carbon pricing.

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The finance ministry told Global News the government will deliver its fiscal plans and details when the provincial budget is related on March 23.

“I would love to see more support for the arts from our provincial government in general but especially right now, artists and the live event industry has been essentially eviscerated and people are really struggling to get back on their feet,” Otterbein said.

As for what individuals can do to help local businesses, Otterbein said buying tickets to shows helps out both artists and the community.

Peters said besides dining out and ordering take out from local restaurants, it also helps them out when customers buy gift cards or order off-sale.

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