Alberta businesses lining up for grant program as revenues plummet

·4 min read

Roughly 5,000 more Alberta businesses are now eligible for the provincial relaunch grant.

The province announced Thursday that small- and medium-sized businesses that began operating between March 1 and Oct. 31, 2020 can receive up to $15,000.

They had previously been excluded from the program.

For some it's a hand up, a way to grow their business during tough times.

Others say it's a Band-Aid that won't stop the bleeding for long.

Opportunity to expand

Calgary eatery PizzaFace started a takeout operation in March, first building custom pizzas in a friend's restaurant kitchen.

In September, they took over a brick-and-mortar location and since have been doing brisk business.

"With the more lockdown and restrictions we tend to be busier, so we have been on a steady upclimb but that also has to do with the situation we're in as well," said co-owner Antonio Migliarese.

"People can't go to restaurants, so they are stuck at home and you only want to cook so much at home before you order pizza."

PizzaFace didn't qualify for the grant when it was originally launched in the spring but decided to make a go of the pizza business anyway.

Migliarese said the expansion of eligibility has allowed PizzaFace to expand the business, and put some unemployed Calgarians back to work.

"We've increased our employee load, reaching out to hard workers who we know want to work but can't. So we've been able to, I guess, give back in that sense."

But while Migliarese is able to use the grant to grow his busy eatery, others say the money will simply be a way to stay afloat — for a little while.

Barely staying afloat in tourist town

Heather Merrett and Melodie-Joy Miller started Seed N Salt just before the pandemic hit, but also didn't qualify for the grant the first time around.

"It was a new business that had signed leases in 2019, filed GST in 2019, incurred costs in 2019 but did not have revenue in 2019, therefore we're a new business and we're excluded," Miller said.

Small- and medium-sized businesses, cooperatives and non-profit organizations with fewer than 500 employees that faced restrictions or closures because of public health orders and experienced a revenue loss of at least 30 per cent due to the pandemic are eligible under the expansion.

Merrett and Miller said while Banff is usually the perfect spot for a restaurant, theirs was impacted in several ways.

Food and beverage is already one of the hardest hit areas due to the pandemic. On top of that, Banff is a destination reliant on tourism.

With borders closed and restrictions in place, not only are visitors not flocking to the mountain town, but it also means fewer people are moving to Banff to take jobs in the hospitality sector.

A decrease in population means a decrease in demand for food.

"We are grateful. It will definitely help us out. I mean, it is $15,000, and it's a grant, so that will help us with operating costs," Merrett said. "But it won't sustain our business or help us go forward with the minimal tourists we have here in Banff right now."

Tiphanie Roquette/CBC
Tiphanie Roquette/CBC

Merrett and Miller said they nearly decided to close and forget their Seed N Salt dream, but said they had few options except to continue.

"We were already $200,000 in when COVID hit. Because of provincial and federal restrictions, we've been shut down and so our revenue compared to our forecast .. we aren't making any money," Miller said. "Now, Heather and I are fearful about the variant that everyone is talking about.

"What if it causes another shutdown? What would that look like? If summer were to be like it is right now, we won't be able to move forward."

The two said the only real hope of recouping what they've lost so far will be to put visitors back in Banff and open doors to dine-in service.

As they hope for a return to normalcy, they'll use the grant money to pay rent and other operating costs for a restaurant they can't open.

Any new company that meets the 30 per cent threshold for lost revenue will be able to apply for the grant starting Feb. 4, 2021.

The province said businesses like PizzaFace and Seed N Salt that didn't qualify when the original program was announced should wait until Feb. 4 to reapply to avoid being deemed ineligible.

According to provincial statistics, small- and medium-sized businesses make up 99.8 percent of all job creators in the province, and employ about half a million Albertans.