British Columbia

This Vancouver restaurant is one of thousands of B.C. businesses lost to the pandemic

More than 25,000 businesses closed across British Columbia between March and April this year, according to new data released by Statistics Canada.

In the Greater Vancouver area alone, more than 15,000 businesses closed between March and April

Robert Belcham, owner of Campagnolo restaurant in Vancouver. After 12 years in business, he says he's not re-opening the Italian spot on Main Street which closed in March due to the pandemic. New numbers from Statistics Canada show thousands of other B.C. businesses are also closing. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

After closing down in March due to the pandemic, Robert Belcham said he just couldn't see a way to reopen his Vancouver restaurant, Campagnolo, and make it thrive.

He's decided to close the Main Street Italian spot down for good after 12 years.

"The future doesn't look great," Belcham said. "We wanted to go out on top and not be struggling for the next couple of years."

"We're tired. I'm tired ... 12 years is a long time."

Robert Belcham, owner and executive chef at Campagnolo restaurant in Vancouver, says he'll miss the regular customers who frequented his establishment. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It's an emotionally difficult decision, Belcham said, especially because it means 25 staff will lose their jobs.

"When they ask me, 'where can I work?' I don't have an answer for them right now," he said. 

Campagnolo isn't alone in closing down: More than 25,000 businesses closed across British Columbia between March and April this year, according to new data released by Statistics Canada.

The numbers paint a grim picture of how businesses have fallen victim to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Numbers show businesses' 'devastation'

Bridgitte Anderson, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, said it's no secret business has been tough for many entrepreneurs.

"These numbers show the real devastation," Anderson said.

"And it's not even the full picture," she adds, as the numbers don't include May, June or July.

At the start of the year, there were 131,074 active businesses — where at least one person was employed — but by April, that number had dropped to 117,005, a decrease of more than 10 per cent.

A stark contrast can be seen between February and March, when B.C. went into Phase 1 of its COVID-19 response and many businesses were forced to shutter in response to public health measures.

In February, just over 6,700 businesses closed, but by March, that number had jumped to 11,847. And then another 13,715 businesses closed in April.

Many B.C. businesses were forced to close at the height of the pandemic. While plenty reopened, thousands did not. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Greater Vancouver records huge losses

A large percentage of the closures were centred in B.C.'s most populous region, Greater Vancouver.

Statistics Canada says 15,919 businesses closed in Greater Vancouver between March and April.

Anderson says a lot of businesses in the region didn't contemplate closing until May or June, so she predicts the numbers will get even worse.

"The closures just show the snapshot," she said.

Anderson says every time a business closes it creates a ripple effect that puts other jobs at risk, including suppliers and contractors.

A man crosses a street in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday, March 23, 2020. Anderson says retail and restaurants were two of the hardest hit industries. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Of the industries hardest hit, Anderson says tourism, accommodation, food, retail, construction and personal services top the list.

She says some businesses were able to shift online, which helped them survive, but many others didn't have that option and were forced to close.

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade is working with the government as part of its economic recovery task force and Anderson says her organization is pushing for short-term relief from the province in the form of reduced regulatory burdens and taxes.

As for the bigger picture, she says there needs to be a focus on investing in digital infrastructure and helping businesses shift to a virtual environment to survive the pandemic.

"It's imperative that the government doesn't just look at what they can do short-term, immediately, but also, how we're going to be able to transform our region long-term," she said.

Restaurants already vulnerable

Belcham says the hard-hit restaurant scene needs to use this time to reinvent itself.

He said too many were vulnerable before the pandemic because of "race to the bottom" competition over menu prices.

That's made profit margins razor thin for years and meant staff aren't being compensated or getting the benefits owners would like to offer.

He's hoping customers will begin to understand the situation and adjust their expectations.

But for now he wants them to support their favourite haunts by dining out more.

With files from Harman

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