Small businesses are feeling the effects of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Half of small businesses reported a drop in sales due to COVID-19, a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) found. What’s more, a quarter said they don’t think they could survive a month with a loss in income of more than 50 per cent.
Restaurants and bars were ordered to close or switch to only providing take-out in parts of the country as of Tuesday, March 17, when leaders declared states of emergency in provinces including Ontario, Alberta and B.C. Gyms, daycares, spas and retailers have also shut down as health officials urge social distancing.
But even before closures, small businesses were feeling the effects of the new coronavirus outbreak, said Lisa Kramer, a professor of finance at the University of Toronto.
“On the [past] weekend, restaurant reservations were 30 to 50 per cent lower than the year before in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto,” Kramer said, pointing to data from OpenTable.com.
“These short-term impacts are large and unprecedented in recent memory.”
How to support small local businesses
According to the CFIB survey, the sectors most negatively affected by coronavirus-related closures include hospitality, arts and recreation, retail and personal services.
Dan Kelly, president of the CFIB, said people who own small businesses or work for them are very anxious and fearful for their livelihood.
“We know that there are many Canadians that couldn’t go even two weeks without a paycheck,” Kelly said.
“These are very difficult days for a lot of small business owners: they have to think about the safety of their employees first and foremost, how they’re going to pay each employee and … how they can continue to serve their customers as best they can.”
Supporting local and small businesses is vital during this uncertain time, said Eileen Fischer, a professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business. While the government has pledged financial support to help small businesses, customers also play a role in helping them survive.
“Consumers have a lot of choice in this setting, whether they recognize it or not,” Fischer said.
“For example, fruits and vegetables, you could go and you buy those at Loblaws, or you could buy them at your local greengrocer. Maybe it’s less convenient to get through your local greengrocer, but they need our business right now more than ever.”
When it comes to local restaurants, Kramer said people can support them by ordering take-out, delivery (if they offer it), or buying gift cards for future use.
“Ordering take-out food can help restaurant owners continue to employ their staff and continue to pay employees who need to take sick days,” Kramer said.
Dan Kelly from the CFIB added that people can support service-based businesses, like nail salons, by prepaying for future appointments.
For small gyms and fitness studios — many of which have closed amid the outbreak — Kramer said members who can afford to maintain their membership should consider doing so. This can help support owners and their employees, and maximize the odds the business will survive the storm.
“Some gyms are encouraging this behaviour, for example, by offering their patrons access to online exercise classes during the physical closure of their establishments,” she said.
Retail shops, like independent book stores, are also taking a hit. If you’re one of the many Canadians looking for ways to combat cabin fever, consider buying local before ordering from a big-box chain.
If purchasing books in-person is not an option for you, many independent retailers have reduced their shipping costs, Kramer said. She notes, however, that some operate with “such thin profit margins” and consumers willing to pay these costs “can help keep small establishments afloat.”
Toronto-based Queen Books announced on social media they have closed their doors to the public as of Monday, March 16, but would take orders via phone or online, and deliver books to customers.
Fischer said now is a good time for people to buy presents or birthday gifts for loved ones, even if those events are months away.
“Maybe do your Christmas shopping now,” she said.
How to support artists, freelancers
Authors, musicians and artists are experiencing cancelled book tours and concerts. Theatres have been closed, as have community centres and concert venues.
Kramer said while many organizations are offering refunds on tickets, if you can afford to make a donation, consider doing so.
“For cancelled performances that are run by non-profit organizations, including many theatres, opera companies, symphonies, etc., it’s often possible to decline the refunded ticket and instead contribute those funds to the non-profit in exchange for a tax refund,” she said.
“I strongly encourage this option for those who can afford it, because it allows the arts organizations to continue to pay performers and other staff members.”
You can also buy local authors’ books online, and buy musicians music or merchandise through their websites.
Amid the uncertainty, Fischer said support helps show small business owners and workers that they are an integral part of the community. And while support from banks and the government is vital, so are positive messages from the community.
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“Small businesses are community members… and [they’re] also a resilient group of people. These are people who get by under tough circumstances a lot,” she said.
“We will get through this, and we need to think of creative ways of helping one another get through this.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.