Local businesses face new restrictions, learn about assistance

·3 min read

Local retailers facing a reduction in capacity to 15 per cent will have access to federal programs, said Tanya Oliver, Grande Prairie and District Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer.

The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) is continuing, and the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) has been replaced with the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS).

“A lot of businesses have said that (capacity) restriction is going to be a challenge for them,” said Christopher King, County of Grande Prairie economic development manager.

Oliver said it’s difficult to speculate on whether there will be revenue lost due to reduced capacity, since customers will still be allowed through the door.

The difficulty for businesses is considering how to enforce the restrictions, King said.

“The restrictions are going to have an impact, but we are pleased the government didn’t try to discern between essential and non-essential retail businesses like they had with the earlier restrictions,” Oliver said.

“They are allowing an equal opportunity for the larger box stores and locally-run mom and pop shops to remain open.”

The Business Resiliency Task Force was established by the city and county of Grande Prairie and Grande Prairie chamber to support businesses during the pandemic.

Between information sessions and other initiatives, Oliver estimated the task force has engaged hundreds of businesses in the South Peace.

Retail has been one of the hardest hit industries, King said.

Early in the pandemic, the task force provided guidance to businesses to comply with guidelines, he said. This included helping them access signage and window stickers from print shops.

“We’re trying to keep businesses viable and keep them open, so when things return to normal those services, businesses and jobs are still available,” King said.

He said businesses have begun to adhere to the limits in different ways, including tracking the number of people in the store, having line-ups outside the building or taking appointments.

The task force has also communicated with businesses about taking more online orders and providing curbside pickup, he said.

Oliver said some stores have staff at the doors to monitor how many customers come in.

“Most people are respectful and understanding of the current situation we’re in,” she said.

King said the task force hasn’t received much feedback from stores about difficulty enforcing the mask mandate, aside from a few anecdotes about a mixed reception from customers.

King said the task force is endeavouring to keep local businesses educated and informed about changing programs.

The task force hosted a webinar by MNP for businesses Wednesday about CERS and CEWS, he said. King said approximately 150 businesses were anticipated to participate in the webinar.

Many business owners have indicated they’ve taken advantage of the available assistance, especially in the spring, King said.

CEWS was recently extended, Oliver said.

For rent assistance, Oliver said landlords and commercial tenants had found CECRA to be a cumbersome program and the task force had lobbied for reform.

She is hopeful CERS will be more accessible, she said.

Under CERS, businesses and non-profits facing lost revenue caused by the pandemic can apply for a subsidy to cover part of their commercial rent or property expenses, until June 2021.

Unlike CECRA, landlord participation isn’t required for enterprises to access CERS, according to the Canada Revenue Agency.

Oliver said the task force is also encouraging local shopping.

“Shopping locally is more important now than ever,” she said.

“Be a little more patient if you have to, to get into the business.”

The task force has launched a contest where residents can post using the hashtag #LoveLocalGP, tag the business patronized where possible, and the chamber, county and city.

Posts will be entered into draws, with five $200 gift cards available.

There will also be a grand prize draw for a $2,000 gift card or a runner up prize of $1,000 or $500 in gift cards, according to the task force.

The contest runs until Jan. 10 and the grand prize winner will be announced Jan. 11.

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News