Calgary

Uncertainty the new normal for small businesses in Calgary as virus spreads

Calgary small businesses are struggling with what next steps should look like as the economic effects of COVID-19 seem to increase day-by-day which virtually no end in sight.

'How as a small business owner am I going to make it through?'

Calgary small businesses are struggling with what next steps should look like 1:32

Calgary businesses are struggling with what their next steps should look like as the economic effects of COVID-19 seem to increase day-by-day with virtually no end in sight.

"How as a small business owner am I going to make it through? How long is this going to go on for?" optometrist Dr. Brent Neufeld told CBC News.

"My employees are asking, 'Will I have a job when this is all over?'"

Calgary declared a local state of emergency on the weekend; Alberta implemented the provincial equivalent Tuesday.

Tough restrictions now prevent gatherings of more than 50 people. That and a string of other guidelines are aimed at mitigating the effects of the global pandemic that dozens of Albertans have already tested positive for.

But for some smaller businesses in Calgary, the million-dollar question becomes, stay open or shut down?

"I can't do my business from home and my employees can't work from home," Neufeld said.

Dr. Brent Neufeld is a Calgary optometrist. He says his employees want to know if they'll still have jobs to return to when the crisis has passed. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

But as business has dropped, he asks, is there a safety upside to the current situation?

"If someone has an eye infection or an emergency, would you rather they go to an office like this, which is empty right now, or spend two or three hours in an emergency room and contract something there?"

'I felt I needed to surrender'

The co-owner of a trendy barber shop made the agonizing decision to shut down, just a day ago.

"I felt I needed to surrender to whatever was going on," Phillip Elliott said.

"I had to keep my staff in mind: keep them safe, keep our clients safe, keep myself safe. With social distancing, it isn't really possible to follow those guidelines."

There's no way to cut a beard without touching.

"Why try and capitalize on a time like this? I think the safest thing is to keep our distance. We are at the front lines of spreading infection, touching people all day."

Phillip Elliott is the co-owner of a trendy Calgary barber shop. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

And all day fielding calls and questions from anxious owners is what a business advocacy group says it's been doing.

"Fifty per cent of small businesses have reported they have already experienced a drop in sales," said Annie Dormuth of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

"One in four businesses are reporting they are not going to be able to survive a significant drop in income for more than a month."

So Ottawa's $82-billion relief plan announced Wednesday, including small business elements, is welcome news, she said.

Unanswered questions

For the optometrist, the list of questions with no immediate answers is growing.

"Uncertainty," Neufeld said.

"Uncertainty of what we are going to need to do. How are we going to handle our expenses and the welfare of our employees?"

With files from Terri Trembath

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