After 23 years in business, Golestan Bakery, a fixture of central Lonsdale in North Vancouver, is being forced to close its doors for good after being served with eviction papers on Wednesday for non-payment of rent.
Owner Jalal "Jay" Darvishi said he is heartbroken and out of options because his landlord refused to apply for Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA), and wouldn't cut him a break on his monthly rent of $7,200.
"After COVID happened, I told [my landlord] the government is helping small business with rent subsidies. But he said no, I need full rent, I don't care," he said.
The ripple effects are devastating to Darvishi and the business he has poured his life into.
He opened the bakery in 1997 with one employee, choosing the name Golestan — which means flower garden in Persian — to reflect the diversity of the neighbourhood.
The eviction means 14 employees are out of work and his two other storefronts — on Marine Drive in West Vancouver and another downtown on Robson Street — will also be forced to close because most of the cooking and baking is done in his main kitchen at the Lonsdale location.
'Feel like a slave'
"All these years I work, I save all my money to invest [in] and grow my business … and now I don't know what's going to happen in the future," said Darvishi."This situation makes you feel like a slave to the landlord, because you don't have any power — he has all the power."
CECRA was rolled out by the federal government as a lifeline for small businesses during the early months of the pandemic, but it hinged on landlords applying, not the business owners themselves.
From April to September 2020, the program handed out forgivable loans to landlords for up to 50 per cent of monthly rent. Tenants still had to chip in 25 per cent of their pre-pandemic rent, while landlords were expected to accept a 25 per cent loss.
CERCA expired on Sept. 30, as did the provincial government's moratorium on business evictions.
Darvishi said he had never missed a rent payment until April of this year when he was still reeling from losing all his business from Nowruz or Persian New Year, one of his busiest seasons.
"I made too much stuff ... to make it good for New Year's. Then COVID happened and we shut down for two weeks, and after that, there is no sales. I threw [out] all the cooking and pastry because all of them expired ... and I couldn't donate because of COVID."
Business down 70 per cent
All told, Darvishi estimates business has dropped 70 per cent over the last six months.
"All the weddings, all the parties are all cancelled," he said. "I told my landlord I'm going to share with you money every day. Please look at my sales and take a percentage of sales. But he never accept it."
CBC requested comment from the landlord over the phone and via email and text message but never heard back.
According to Darvishi, landlords at his two other stores had no issues applying for CECRA or negotiating a break on his rent.
A statement from the constituency office of North Vancouver MP Jonathon Wilkinson said the prime minister and privy council office of intergovernmental affairs were looking into how to best protect small businesses in this situation.