Manitoba

Manitoba businesses hold on 'by a wing and a prayer' as non-essential businesses ordered closed 2 more weeks

Some small businesses fear they may be forced to shutter forever without urgent help, as the province extends public health orders until April 28.

Restaurants are among small businesses burdened by COVID-19 pandemic economy

The plug has been pulled on many signs as restaurants and retailers are no longer inviting anyone inside due to provincial public health orders. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Some small business owners in Manitoba fear they may never get out of the red now that province has extended its public health order that has shuttered many restuarants and small businesses.

Laxman Negi, owner of the Chili Chutney restaurant in Brandon, Man., said he's had to lay off five of his staff due to a decline in revenue and the closure of his 150-seat dining room. 

"I know it's going to be long," Negi said of the extension. 

Negi, who serves authentic Indian food, said now that the dining room has been shut down and all catering events cancelled, his kitchen is only serving up delivery and takeout orders. 

He said while his spending has been cut due to less labour and food costs, revenue has also dropped.

"It's affected too much ... it's not only for our business, it's every single business that is affected at the moment," he said.

The public health order was issued March 30 as part of efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Manitoba. It was set to expire Tuesday, but the province extended it on Monday to April 28.

It orders non-critical businesses closed or operating at a limited capacity. For restaurants that mean no in-house dining. 

Negi hopes he can bring back the handful of staff, including a server, kitchen helper and dishwasher, who were temporarily laid off, soon.

"This is the worst time for the entire world," Negi said.

However, he said he is confident the situation will get better and his business will survive.

'Impossible for us'

The owner of the Good Will Social Club doesn't share that same optimism.

"As our name suggests, we are a social club, so I mean social distancing made it impossible for us to stay open and we realized that quickly," Tyler Sneesby told Ismaila Alfa, the host of CBC Radio's Up to Speed.

He too has had to close down and lay off all staff.

Sneesby said he does not have high expectations that his business will reopen anytime soon either, due to a perceived lack of clarity and support from all levels of government.

The club is holding on "by a wing and a prayer," he said.

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"We don't really see any support from the provincial or the federal government," he said, adding the wage subsidy does not help non-essential businesses, like his, that had to completely shutter.

"We don't have any wages to pay because we are not open," he said.

He feels like his business is being squeezed out of new aid programs introduced to help small businesses weather the pandemic economy, as others like him struggle to meet what he calls "razor-thin" margins.

The Good Will Social Club's lounge area has plenty of bench seating that will remain empty under public health orders. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

Sneesby said he is hoping the government will offer a commercial rent subsidy. The province's rent and eviction freeze does not apply to commercial tenants, which he said puts his business "very much at risk".

Manitoba businesses shut out

The director of provincial affairs with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said it helped the province determine essential services and non-essential ones, and now he wants to ensure those compelled to close or adapt stay afloat.

"Especially for those businesses that have been forced to close their doors for the good of all Manitobans, we need to make sure there's direct help for them and grants for them," Jonathan Alward said.

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The province announced some help on Monday, in the form of a partnership with Manitoba-based 24-7 Intouch to help local businesses and non-profits connect with federal government programs.

Alward said the province needs to step up to help fill the gaps in the federal programs introduced to ensure small businesses can survive and reopen once physical distancing regulations are relaxed.

With files from Bartley Kives and Ismaila Alfa

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