P.E.I. small businesses say rent subsidies, not deferrals, needed to stay afloat during COVID-19

A group of Island small business owners say the provincial government needs to offer commercial rent subsidies, instead of rent deferrals, to keep small operators on P.E.I. from going under during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Group is asking province to enhance supports for small businesses

Kimberley MacIntyre co-owns Kuriosities Jewelry on Richmond Street in Charlottetown, and says government's COVID-19 relief programs for small businesses like hers are not enough to help keep them afloat. (Nicole Williams/CBC News)

A group of Island small business owners say the provincial government needs to offer commercial rent subsidies, instead of rent deferrals, to keep small operators on P.E.I. from going under during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kimberly McIntyre owns the jewelry store Kuriosities on Victoria Row in Charlottetown, and has written to all the MLAs in P.E.I., supported by seven other Island entrepreneurs, explaining that rent deferrals don't make sense for some small businesses  — because with very little income coming in, deferring the rent will just mean incurring more debt.

"It's just putting the whole weight of that, the closures, on the backs of small mom and pop shops," said McIntyre. 

"The landlords are protected. The banks are protected. The only one who's not protected is small business. Small business is just being encouraged to incur greater debt."

McIntyre said a rent subsidy is needed "to address the problem from the bottom up."

McIntyre says she's already paid for a lot of the items she ordered to sell at her store and she's only able to sell a small portion online. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"So if you subsidize our rent, and you help us get through this, you're also helping the landlords, and you're also helping the banks." 

McIntyre says many of her counterparts across the Island are in a similar position and potentially facing closure.

"The wage subsidy from the government, that's great if you have a call centre or maybe you have work that people can do from home, but in retail or a workshop, that does nothing for me," said McIntyre, who makes custom jewelry and sells other gift items, from housewares to stationery. 

The Comic Hunter in Charlottetown set up a table outside for customers to safely pick up merchandise they've paid for via e-transfer. (Submitted by The Comic Hunter)

Sue Smith, who runs the Comic Hunter in Charlottetown, agrees rent deferral is not the best option.

"Our rent was due today and there's no money in my account, so even if our landlord tries to cash a cheque there is nothing there," said Smith, who signed the letter to the MLAs sent by McIntyre. 

She said she's spent hours on hold with government officials trying to get information on support for small businesses. 

"They say there is all this help, but I have not been able to access any," said Smith, who has been in business in Charlottetown since 1989.

Since closing her store two weeks ago, Smith has been posting merchandise for sale on social media, and has a table set up out front for customers to pick up their items after sending an e-transfer. But she said that's no replacement for the money the store would bring in if it was open — and not enough to keep the business going.

"We can't continue to bleed money," said Smith.

"I don't know what I'd do if I had to close."

'Incredibly stressful'

McIntyre recently leased, and is renovating, the retail space beside her existing store. She hoped to open a new business there next month. With all non-essential businesses closed, she's left paying double rent and utilities, at a time when she can't open her shop and is making minimal sales online. 

"It's incredibly stressful," she said. 

"Right now I'm getting in all of my summer products, and I don't know how I'm going to be able to sell any of this and I've already paid for it." 

McIntyre said existing support for small businesses isn't enough to keep shops like hers afloat. She has applied for the Emergency Income Relief being offered to Islanders who are self-employed — but says the maximum of $500 a week for a two-week period won't put a dent in the commercial rent she pays. 

Province says programs continue to be developed

Officials with the province say the current plan is to continue with the Commercial Lease Rent Deferral Program — but that that provincial government supports will continue to evolve and adapt alongside those announced by the federal government. 

They said currently, four programs are available to assist small business owners:

  • Emergency Working Capital Financing 
  • Emergency Income Relief for the Self-Employed
  • Emergency Relief Worker Assistance Program
  • PEI Broadband Fund for Business 

Opposition: 'Immense challenge' 

Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker confirmed he received the letter from the group of small businesses, and has been communicating with constituents on the matter.

"I have consistently brought forward concerns of Islanders and have been helping identify gaps in government's response," said Bevan-Baker, a member of the provincial COVID-19 Situation Response Table.

Peter Bevan-Baker says everyone in government is doing their best to triage issues and put initiatives in place - and says he's working to help identify gaps in service. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

He said everyone in government is doing their best to triage issues and put initiatives in place.

"We realize the immense challenge before our province and we are doing all we can to also meet the critical needs of Island businesses and business owners," said Bevan-Baker. 

Liberal Party calls for 'innovative' solutions

"Today's crisis is devastating — and I realize governments are working to address immediate needs," said Liberal MLA Heath MacDonald in a news release Thursday. "But our province's long-term future will also depend on making sure that small businesses are able to survive and recover."

Liberal House Leader Heath MacDonald says his party is calling on government to provide additional supports to small businesses, including improvements to infrastructure that would assist in conducting business online. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

MacDonald said the Liberal caucus is calling on government to enhance supports for small businesses, including help with sales of their products online, and safe delivery of these items to customers.

"The Island was built on small- and medium-sized businesses — and they urgently need our help," said MacDonald.

"Right now, small businesses need us, as we will need them in the days ahead."

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.

  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.


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