Nova Scotia

Businesses wade into 'scary' unknown as uncertainty takes hold

The Halifax Chamber of Commerce is part of a new business group that has been formed to try and steer local businesses through the economic turmoil brought on by COVID-19.

Halifax Chamber of Commerce says businesses need help meeting payroll

This sign has been posted on the entrance to Oddfellows Barber Shop in Halifax. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The Halifax Chamber of Commerce is part of a new business group that has been formed to try and steer local businesses through the economic turmoil brought on by COVID-19.

More restrictions this week from the provincial government have forced many businesses to close their doors. Among them were barber shops.

"You really can't avoid having your hands on people's faces," said Joel Martell, the owner of Oddfellows Barber Shop on Quinpool Road in Halifax. "The scary part is the unknown of how long we are going to be closed."

Martell is one of the many Nova Scotia business owners whose status is up in the air. A long closure would be catastrophic for his business.

Martell is not alone, and the new working group organized by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce is hoping to help business owners.

"The biggest concern we are seeing now is companies getting payroll assistance at this time," said Pat Sullivan, the chamber's president and CEO. "We are seeing businesses laying people off or shutting down in some way."

All fitness gyms in Nova Scotia have been ordered by the provincial government to remain closed until further notice. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

As of Thursday morning, there were five confirmed cases and nine presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.

All bars in Nova Scotia have been ordered to close and restaurants are restricted to providing only takeout or delivery services. All gyms, spas, barbershops and salons, body art establishments and nail salons in the province have also been ordered to cease operations.

It's estimated about 30,000 people in the restaurant industry alone are now out of work. Business owners throughout the province have had to close their doors temporarily.

"By taking our bitter medicine now I think we're hopeful that within a couple of weeks we can have stores open," said Sullivan.

With no money coming in, many businesses will face tough decisions if the spread of the virus gets worse. Governments are offering support, including an $82-billion federal package. Nova Scotia is expected to announce some details of its plans this week.

Chives Canadian Bistro on Barrington Street is one of many downtown Halifax businesses to close temporarily. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Sullivan said over 30 business associations from Sydney to Yarmouth have now joined forces to work as a primary contact point for the Nova Scotia government as it makes "rapid decisions and changes to the business environment."

"We want to get that information out to the more than 200,000 employees that these organizations represent as quickly as we can," said Sullivan. "We also want to get feedback from these businesses so we can get that back to the government, so they know what it is they need the most in order to get through this time."

Martell is trying to remain optimistic about the economic crunch brought on by COVID-19. He closed his barber shop Saturday before the province laid out the new restrictions. But he said having his doors forced shut by the government is a game changer.

"Now that the province has told us we have to close down our shop we're now at the province's mercy as to when we can open back up," said Martell, who has three employees. "Things have really changed, it's trying times."