Chef Dustin Riley nurses a cold can of Lucky Lager in his empty Ucluelet restaurant ‘The Blue Room’ over Easter long weekend. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Sinking Vancouver Island small businesses say aid package too little, too late

Rent abatement and cash up front is needed, say owners

Like many small business owners across Canada, chef Dustin Riley of Ucluelet’s ‘The Blue Room’ finds himself with an emotional decision to make: Sink or swim?

“I went through a really dark time right after closing and I was ready to walk away. But I can’t do that to the community. I’d rather go down fighting then just walk away,” Riley said over the telephone, choking back tears.

He opened his west coast bistro 10 years ago after falling in love with the small fishing town. Leading up to the annual Pacific Rim Whale Festival that was supposed to kick-off on March 20, Riley said he was fully staffed and had proudly secured employee housing for four of his team members – a feat that is an ongoing struggle unto itself in the tourism-driven west coast region.

Then he had to pull the plug when B.C.’s top doctor ordered all restaurants across the province to close its doors to dine-in guests.

“At the beginning of [April], $4,300 came out of my bank account for housing that we are not going to be able to use,” he said. “I had to lay off my staff. In my conscience mind I couldn’t have these new employees pay for staff (accommodations) when they had just moved. I was floating them. I would do anything for my staff because without them I am nothing.”

The proverbial life raft bobbing on the horizon for Canadian small business owners like Riley is a $40,000 interest-free loan, offered up as part of the federal governments $25 billion loan program to support small businesses and non-profits.

To qualify for the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) as it is being referred to, organizations will need to demonstrate they paid between $50,000 to $1 million in total payroll in 2019. Up to $10,000 of the $40,000 will be eligible for complete forgiveness if $30,000 is fully repaid on or before December 31, 2022.

NDP small business critic Gord Johns, MP for Courtenay-Alberni, said the CEBA needs to be more flexible.

“Get rid of the payroll limitations on the $40,000 loan so that everyone can access it. Keep it universal,” said Johns. “If you’re a proprietorship, and it’s you and your partner, you get nothing.”

“The $10,000 repayable that you get as a grant if you pay it back by Dec. 2022, what we are saying, and this is supported by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, is give the grant up front. People actually need cash up front, right now,” Johns continued.

In an April 9 Finance Committee meeting, NDP critic for finance Peter Julian, MP for New Westminster-Burnaby, raised a concrete example of a popular Ucluelet food truck ‘Jiggers Fish and Chips’ applying for the loan, but because their payroll requirement fell $483 short of the minimal payroll requirement, they were rejected by the system.

“The regulations, do they not need to be much more flexible both in terms of loans, but also in terms of the wage subsidy and that 30 per cent threshold,” said Julian.

Save Small Business, a grassroots coalition of over 20,000 small businesses across Canada, is calling on all levels of government to provide a “land-lord friendly” commercial rent abatement strategy.

A survey sent to businesses who signed up via showed that 38 per cent of small businesses will default on their commercial rents on April 1. By May 1, 70 per cent of small businesses will have defaulted.

“There is a fundamental unfairness in asking businesses to close to protect the community, and then asking them to take on debt to make sure costs like rent, phone bills and debt payments are paid in full,” said Jon Shell, Save Small Business co-founder, in a media release. “This crisis calls for more equitable burden sharing.”

Save Small Business launched a petition asking the federal government to “mandate the first $10,000 of commercial rent is waived for three months and give landlords the support they need to make it happen.” As of April 10, over 25,000 small business owners and over 6,100 individuals had signed.

Blue Room’s chef re-iterates what is being offered is not enough.

“That 40 grand that they are offering and those tax breaks, it’s just not enough.”

And the community vibe between West Coast restaurant owners is sadly sinking too, Riley observes.

“Everyone is fighting for crumbs right now. The whole working together that we were doing really well at, it’s going to come back to ‘I’m in it for myself’. Those crumbs, even if they do open up in July and August, the crumbs will be pretty sparse for the widespread of restaurants that we have,” he said.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

READ: B.C.’s COVID-19 rent supplement starts taking applications

READ: Canada lost more than a million jobs in March, but April may be even worse

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Big Beach parties spark concern in Ucluelet

“You find needles, left over party debris, bottles and still burning fires.”

Ucluelet’s Terrace Beach Resort is for sale

The commercial offering of 21 suites and cabins was recently listed for $4,495,000

Young tourist caught untying boats from Ucluelet dock

“He was just untying the boats and watching them float away,” said Harbour Master Kevin Cortes.

Feds announce $8.3M to deal with ‘ghost’ fishing gear in B.C. waters

Ghost gear accounts for up to 70 per cent of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight

Ucluelet RCMP warns of scammers impersonating police

“Police will never demand payment of any kind to get rid of an arrest warrant.”

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Vancouver Island business ad unintentionally features OK gesture linked to white supremacy

Innocuous ‘OK’ gesture in cleaning franchise advertisement gets flak on social media for ‘supposedly’ promoting white supremacy

Minivan driver’s speed a factor in fatal 2018 Malahat crash

Driver was travelling at 110 km/h in a construction zone

WATCH: Tofino youth choir sing tribute song to front-line workers

Wickaninnish Elementary students release virtual rendition of ‘A Thousand Suns’ by Hey Rosetta!

Comox Valley RCMP looking for missing woman

Ami Guthrie was last seen in Courtenay in early July

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

Most Read