By: Michelle Poirier

Despite the promise of emergency wage subsidies and low-interest loans, many local businesses in Georgina are struggling to pay rent and may not be able to re-open when the pandemic is over.

Elio Riccelli, owner of Elio Ristorante in Sutton, had to shut his business down and lay off his staff over three weeks ago. He has put a hold on his rent payments and is waiting to see what will happen in the upcoming weeks or months.

“We’re just on a stand still right now,” he said.

Mr. Riccelli is aware of the initiatives the federal government are implementing but is not very hopeful.

“I think they’re promising more than what they’re going to give. I don’t believe in everything that they’ve promised,” he said.

Elio Ristorante is not the only business in Georgina that has had to shut their doors during this time. Pepperwood Design, in Jackson’s Point, and Elpida Café & Roastery, in Keswick, have also closed due to COVID-19.

Alicia and Andy Dubrawski, co-owners of Pepperwood Design, have had to lay off two of their part time employees. Alicia is still working, trying to run the business online, but is not being paid.

“I had a few orders last week for free deliveries of paint but so far I can only take payment by e-transfer, and I know full well that my customers are very cash strapped right now. So I’m in the process of setting up a real online store that can take credit card payments securely,” she said.

Since their store is closed and they are not bringing in their regular income, they are living off of their emergency savings.

“The store can’t afford to pay for anything right now so I am having to support both the store and ourselves as a family with just the funds in my personal emergency account, because of course, neither my husband nor I are getting paid by the store. My emergency account will be down to zero by the end of April,” she said.

Justin Zielonko, co-owner of Elpida Café & Roastery, said the concern for safety and a lack of sales was what made them initially decide to close down.

“We have enough in savings to cover the rent for our café for April, however, should the café remain closed for another month or two, with little income coming in, we will have a hard time being able to afford it, without any external help,” he said.

They have re-opened for delivery to generate some income and will apply for the federal benefits.

“We appreciate any support we can get, however, they won’t make up for the extent of income lost for most businesses. Even if we got $2000 month, it would not cover the expenses at the café and for our home, while it is a good start for the government to make, it will not be enough to keep us going very long,” he said.

Mrs. Dubrawski said she hopes that the federal packages will be able to help her business as well.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll be eligible for the 75 per cent wage subsidy for our employees, including myself and my husband, as our business dropped by way more than 30 per cent after March 15. That will certainly help us out personally but for the store I foresee us having to apply for the business loans to tide us over if we have to be closed in May and June,” she said.

In the meantime, they have been getting creative with ways to keep a stream of income coming in.

“We’re offering a brand new product line for us, which are craft kits for both adults and children that provide a creative activity for when you’re stuck indoors,” she said.

“Now that we can’t have people in the store, we’re planning on offering the workshop items along with all the materials needed to finish them, and I will do YouTube tutorials that my customers can follow along.”

“There’s no way this will produce the kind of revenue we normally have but, honestly, every little bit helps,” she said.

York-Simcoe MP Scot Davidson and Jennifer Anderson, Executive Director of Georgina Chamber of Commerce, hosted a conference call on March 31, 2020 along with almost 100 residents and local business owners to discuss the government initiatives and options for businesses.

Mr. Davidson spoke about the federal initiatives for residents who have lost their income, including the 75 per cent wage subsidy.

“A qualifying business is going to be anyone that’s seen a 30 per cent reduction. They are going to be eligible for the subsidy. The subsidy, we are told, covers up to 75 per cent of the first $58,700, which translates to $847 a week. And the eligibility is not based on number of employees. So if you have a thousand employees or you have one employee you will qualify for the wage subsidy,” he said.

He said that the subsidy is a step in the right direction because it will slow the rush of people applying for EI and is going to keep employees employed.

Ms. Anderson said that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit of $2,000 a month for up to four months – which will be backdated to March 15 – will really help small businesses who operate as mom-and-pop shops without employees. They can apply through the CRA online portal which opened on April 5 and there will be a phone number available for residents without internet access.

“This is really a game changer for small businesses, because for a lot of small businesses in our area don’t qualify for EI. This benefit is available to business owners, entrepreneurs, people who wouldn’t originally qualify for EI in normal circumstances,” she said.

Along with the federal initiatives of the 75 per cent wage subsidy, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, Employment Insurance and the promise of $40,000 loans for businesses (which will be administered through your bank), the provincial government is offering $1.9 billion in relief for employers through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB),with premium payments deferred for six months, interest free.

The province of Ontario has launched Stop the Spread Business Information Line to support Ontario business owners by answering any questions they may have, you can call the line toll-free at 1-888-444-3659.

The Canadian Federation of Independent (CFIB) has a lot of information on the various programs available to small businesses at crib-fcei.ca

The Georgina Chamber of Commerce is also providing a list of resources on their website georginachamber.com

And the Town of Georgina has a dedicated business page for resources available to local businesses georgina.ca

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