Nfld. & Labrador

As St. John's area returns to normal, small business owners are feeling the pinch after days of closures

Five days after a blizzard hammered the Northeast Avalon, prompting states of emergency in St. John's and surrounding communities, businesses in the region — and their employees — are starting to feel the pressure of nearly a week without work.

With many still stuck at home, businesses in the region hit by last week's blizzard are struggling for sales

Amanda Skinner is the owner of Heroes and Hobbies, a comic book shop in Mount Pearl. (Submitted by Amanda Skinner)

Five days after a blizzard hammered the Northeast Avalon, prompting states of emergency in St. John's and surrounding communities, businesses in the region — and their employees — are starting to feel the pressure of nearly a week without work.

Amanda Skinner, owner of Mount Pearl comic book shop Heroes and Hobbies, says she's worried about her future if customers aren't able to start coming into the store.

"Being only open for two years, there is no profit there yet. I mean, I don't get paid. I don't get a paycheque or anything like that," she said.

"Not only do I have the bills here for the shop, I have bills at home."

With many businesses still closed under a state of emergency, workers are beginning to feel the pinch. Hourly workers in particular have wondered whether they will be compensated for shifts cancelled as a result of the storm.

Despite a hodgepodge of government programs to support workers, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour president Mary Shortall says there is little available for employees during crises like last week's blizzard.

Mary Shortall is the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. (Stephanie Tobin/CBC)

When it comes to a program like employment insurance, "[workers] apply once they get laid off. There's paperwork, there's waiting lists, they have to have so many hours accumulated," Shortall said.

"Something like that probably wouldn't be a very easy fix for someone who's lost four or five days and immediately needs it."

For sole proprietors like Skinner, support can't come soon enough. 

"This is going to affect small businesses all over for much longer than what we anticipated," she said.

Funding employee payroll

At his Mount Pearl garage, Auto Care owner Jerome Terry says business has been slow to pick up since he reopened yesterday after a two-day closure.

On average, the garage takes in 10 to 12 cars each day, he says. On Tuesday, he saw only two.

"I think I gathered an hour's labour out of all," he said, adding that Wednesday was much the same.

He says it comes down to car owners simply being unable to get to him. With a state of emergency still in effect in St. John's, many of his customers can't drive to the garage.

Jerome Terry's car garage, Auto Care, was closed for two days as a result of the storm and state of emergency in Mount Pearl. He says business has been slow to pick back up. (Submitted by Jerome Terry)

Though he's confident his shop will weather the storm, he's also anticipating a bit of a downturn. 

He wants the government to step in and offer financial supports, like tax breaks or subsidies, to help local businesses get back on their feet after the storm.

Despite the loss of revenue, however, he says his shop's three employees won't be out of pocket for the work they lost — but Terry will be shouldering the cost from a personal account. 

"I'm going to use a line of credit — take money from my line of credit — and deposit it to the bank and write the boys their cheques," he said.

'I hope it'll pick up again'

Hobby shop owner Skinner says she hopes government relief funds will be made available, but she's hesitant.

"There's not really a whole lot for sole proprietorships," Skinner said. "If we get sick, we don't get sick benefits.… We work around the clock 24/7 and there's no EI there. There's no anything."

In the meantime, she says residents have been encouraging others on social media to visit local businesses hit hard by the storm once roads are clear.

Next month, Heroes and Hobbies will be marking its second year in business. Skinner hopes she'll be there celebrating.

"I hope it'll pick up again for the next year," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Malone Mullin

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