After a tough year, Strathmore and Wheatland County’s small business community is facing another hurdle as the province has enacted additional public health measures, including reducing retail capacity to 15 per cent and closing in-person dining for restaurants and bars.
But there are several supports available – and ways residents can help.
The provincial and federal governments have expanded small business support, including the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant and the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund, respectively.
For business owners, these are options worth exploring, said Hayley Poirier, chair of the Strathmore Wheatland Chamber of Commerce (SWCC).
“They’ve increased the amount available, and I am told that the process is easier to manage than in the springtime,” she said. “The increased grant of up to $20,000 could be the way that a business might survive this new lock down.”
But while these new supports could keep some local small businesses alive, their lifeblood remains commerce from consumers.
“Local businesses in Strathmore and Wheatland County need us more than ever to be shopping in their stores,” said Poirier, who added the new restrictions create a new challenge for small businesses at a key time of year for them.
“In the four to six weeks leading up to Christmas, every dollar that comes into their registers helps make or break their year,” said Poirier. “With the reduced amount of people allowed in stores at one time, that’s going to make it even tougher.”
That means there is an opportunity for residents to help.
“If you are one of those people like myself who have not finished your shopping list yet, please look to your own community and shop in our small businesses this year,” she said.
Shopping in Strathmore in Wheatland County has some advantages, including shorter lineups at the tills. For anyone not comfortable with in-person shopping, there are still options to support local, with businesses supporting online shopping, curbside pickup and personal shopping. Poirier recommends calling a business to see which of these services they may offer.
Many businesses have created an online shopping option, which may help ease the blow of the new restrictions, said Bow River MP Martin Shields. “That is very helpful, especially for a business in a smaller community, such as Strathmore.”
Shields encourages patience and understanding while visiting a small business affected by the new measures.
“If the restrictions mean very few are allowed in a store at a time, find a time when there may be fewer people wanting to go to that store, and visit at those times,” he said, adding if residents want a business to survive, they must support them.
“When I travelled around my constituency earlier in the spring, the smaller the community, the more support there was for the one or two restaurants or stores there,” he said. “People supported them, because they understood that if they didn’t, they (restaurants, stores) would be gone.”
Restaurants are now closed to in-person dining and are hurting as a result. But most are still offering take-out, with many having their menus online.
“In our household we have supported our local restaurants and pubs by using the take-out menus; it is an enjoyable way of having a restaurant experience at home,” said Poirier.
SWCC is continuing its local shopping campaign, #RediscoverLocalHomeforChristmas, through which supporters of local businesses receive tote bags and can win gift cards.
Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant
When the provincial government enacted additional restrictions on Dec. 8, an extension of an existing business support program was also announced.
The Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant was launched in June to provide businesses comprised of less than 500 employees to receive up to $5,000 to offset impacts of the pandemic. Now the program is being expanded to provide a second payment of up to $20,000 to affected businesses. To support this expansion criteria, the province-wide budget of the program was increased, from $200 million to $500 million.
Businesses are eligible to receive up to 15 per cent of the pre-pandemic monthly revenues of businesses affected by public health orders. This second payment is open to businesses in any COVID-19 “watch area,” which includes Strathmore and Wheatland County. The funding can be used however the business owner chooses, including personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, rent, wages, inventory or adopting electronic commerce systems.
The eligibility threshold has been lowered. Previously, businesses that had lost 40 per cent of pre-pandemic revenue were eligible. But now, the amount is 30 per cent, thereby expanding the number of businesses that may qualify, with eligibility retroactive to March 31, 2020.
Regional Relief and Recovery Fund
Community Futures Wild Rose (CFWR) is also providing additional $40,000 small business loans as part of Canada’s Regional Relief and Recovery Fund. This loan, which targets rural small and medium-sized businesses and nonprofits to cover ongoing costs and resume operations, is zero-interest until Jan. 2023.
“Every day, we see small businesses continue to struggle with reduced revenues, increased costs and uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chantale Hache, CFWR executive director. “This extension will ensure more rural SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) have access to relief and recovery funding, and Community Futures can continue to assist as many local businesses as possible during these difficult times.”
Since May 2020, CFWR has approved 42 applications, dispersed over $1.3 million in loans and helped maintain 113 jobs. This additional funding is part of $18.9 million allocated to the Community Futures Network of Alberta, through the federal government’s COVID-19 economic response plan. It targets supporting rural and remote small- and medium-sized enterprises that do not qualify for other programs, such as the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) or Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP).
Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times