New Brunswick

Closing before opening: The instability of being a new business during a pandemic

Katelyn Price planned to spend the month of April preparing to open her new business in uptown Saint John. She was supposed to sign the lease for her sustainable lifestyle store, Juniper, in early March.

'At first you kind of just assume … It's going to pass in a week or two. And then you realize, no, it's not'

Christina Foster (right) and Hannah Williams own EnrichKids, an after-school program for kids in Fredericton. (Blueberry Hill Images 2018)

Katelyn Price planned to spend the month of April preparing to open her new business in uptown Saint John. 

She was supposed to sign the lease for her sustainable lifestyle store, Juniper, in early March. She was going to dedicate April to painting, purchasing furniture and ordering inventory in anticipation of opening in May. 

And then COVID-19 happened. 

Price held off on signing the lease for her store, meaning she's not losing money to rent the space.

"At the time, I was not sure if it was the right move," Price said, adding she was worried someone might swoop in and steal the spot. 

Katelyn Price was set to open her sustainable lifestyle store, Juniper, is May. She's had to put off her plans until the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. (Submitted by Katelyn Price)

"I didn't know if this was going to be something that would affect us for a couple of weeks, a month or longer and now as things have progressed, it's certainly shaping up to be the right move." 

Price is able to put her plans on hold and is aiming to open her store sometime in the summer, or as soon as restrictions are lifted. 

Others who signed a lease before the pandemic and barely had the chance to get their business off the ground aren't as lucky. 

Christina Foster and her business partner Hannah Williams were supposed to hold the grand opening of EnrichKids, an arts and culture-based after school learning centre, on April 18. EnrichKids hopes to offer activities like yoga classes for kids and theatre and arts camps. 

EnrichKids held an open house in early March for parents and kids. (Blueberry Hill Images)

The grand opening would have taken place at their location on St. Mary's St. on Fredericton's north side. 

After holding a small open house and a week-long camp in March, Foster and Williams set about inviting parents, city councillors and Mayor Mike O'Brien to the grand opening. 

"Then March 16 came and everything shut down and that went out the window," Foster said. 

As a child-focused business, Foster and WIlliams were quick to close their doors, understanding how serious the virus is. 

But the impact to their new business, only weeks old, has been enormous. 

"At first you kind of just assume, Oh, okay, shut the doors. Yeah, no problem. It's going to pass in a week or two. And then you realize, no, it's not."

Christina Foster and Hannah Williams created invitations for the grand opening on their business, EnrichKids, but were forced to cancel. (Submitted by Christina Foster)

Foster and Williams planned to become a fully licensed after-school program. They had submitted their application to the government in February. It typically takes around six months for applicants to receive the license, so Foster and WIlliams planned to run short classes and camps throughout the spring and summer to stay afloat and pay their rent. 

"Now we don't know if those are going to happen," Foster said. 

"[If] everything opens up in September, and we still have to wait now another six months for our after-school license — we have no revenue."

When federal help for small businesses was announced, EnrichKids didn't qualify because their payroll didn't meet the $20,000 threshold required to obtain a loan. More help for small businesses was announced Friday, however, and Foster remains hopeful they'll qualify, although the details have yet to be released. 

"I understand it and I know the federal government's trying to help small businesses. But what about new businesses? Are we any less worthy of assistance?"

For now, Foster and Williams are relying on donations to pay for rent. They've created a $25 kit filled with online activities parents can purchase to keep their child busy. Right now, that's their only source of revenue.

Foster said it's possible she and Williams will have to permanently close their new business if the pandemic continues and they can't get aid from the government. 

"What can we do as a business if we can't operate our business? We have to close."

About the Author

Sarah Morin

Reporter

Sarah Morin is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick. She grew up in Thunder Bay and London, Ont. and moved to Fredericton for university. You can follow her on Twitter @sarrymorin or send a story tip to sarah.morin@cbc.ca.

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