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Yellowknife businesses say they're feeling the hit of COVID-19

Some in Yellowknife's food and drink industry say it's too soon to tell if a federal package for workers and small businesses will ease the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some businesses are temporarily shuttering doors and laying off workers

A file photo of The Woodyard Brewhouse & Eatery in Yellowknife. Co-owner Miranda Stevens says she'll take advantage of the federal government subsidy announced this week. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Some in Yellowknife's food and drink industry say they're feeling the impacts of COVID-19 — even before there are any confirmed cases in the territory — but that it's too soon to tell if a federal package for workers and small businesses will ease the blow.

As people spend less time in public spaces downtown to slow the spread of COVID-19, several businesses in the territory's capital have temporarily shuttered, including The Black Knight Pub and Birchwood Coffee Kǫ̀.

A press release from Birchwood Coffee co-owner Patrick Scott says it couldn't stay open without traffic from government workers or others who are usually downtown. Scott said closing was disappointing.

"But we thank all of our loyal customers who have supported us ... We will see you when all this is over," he added. 

This week, the Government of Canada announced easier access to some employment insurance, and funding for small businesses hit by COVID-19.

According to Birchwood's news release, the support is "minimal" and "delays in being able to access such support means [they] are not feasibly able to remain open."

'We're at a standstill'

The federal government is also offering a wage subsidy for small businesses for about three months — something that NWT Brewing Company and The Woodyard Brewhouse & Eatery's Miranda Stevens says her company will take advantage of.

WATCH | Reporter Katie Toth talks to business owners in Yellowknife

While no N.W.T. residents have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, a public health emergency here means bars and pubs are in uncharted territory. 2:45

But that doesn't mean the company will be able to completely avoid layoffs, marketing manager Thomas Bentham said.

This week, the company closed to the public to regroup. The restaurant is reopening Friday at noon, but only offering takeout and beer to go. 

"We are definitely trying to give everyone the most amount of hours we possibly can, but it is also tough," Bentham said. "Without the open doors ... we're at a standstill."

Copperhouse, another Yellowknife restaurant, is also changing to a takeout only menu.

'It's pretty bad'

But not everyone is closing or changing their services.

Early Thursday afternoon at Elke's Table, a few tables were full with people enjoying lunch. Owner Elke Richter said she's being careful — but she wants to stay open as long as she can.

"We wipe everything down with sanitizers." 

Richter said she heard about the federal stimulus, but she still has to look into it to see if it will help her. The cafe is now getting half the customers it usually does, she said.

"It's pretty bad."

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