Locally owned and operated businesses are the social, cultural and economic heart of a community. Unfortunately, this past year has left many unsure if they can continue. In this weeklong series, we look at the vital role local businesses play in our communities, the financial pressure they are under due to COVID-19, and what we can do to help them survive.
Last year, an unprecedented infectious disease changed the fate of everyone.
After the COVID-19 outbreak in China at the end of 2019, many Chinese businesses in Canada felt the brunt of racially-based attacks.
Lots of people began boycotting Chinese businesses in York Region, and some even made personal attacks against Chinese people on social media platforms.
The Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan Chinese Business Association soon realized the seriousness of the problem. It acted quickly, inviting councillors to visit Chinese restaurants, supermarkets, and other places of business, and using the media to call on people to stop discriminating.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, people’s attitude towards the Chinese was not friendly, so we managed to have politicians from the three levels of government to visit Chinese shops to rectify their names,” said Ben Leung, vice-president of MRVCBA.
The pandemic continued to escalate. Ontario declared state of emergency on March 17, 2020. Many non-essential businesses had go into to lockdown and small business owners faced more severe challenges.
The federal government later introduced some policies to help support small businesses. However, due to language and cultural barriers, many Chinese business owners have had some difficulties in applying.
“That’s why we organized a series of online seminars and programs to help everyone apply for government subsidies,” Leung said.
In April, MRVCBA invited city councillors from Richmond Hill, Markham and Vaughan to hold a webinar called Support Business Community, to ensure the government launched financial relief and safeguards that were accessible.
During May and June, MRVCBA held two more business recovery Zoom meetings to discuss topics such as the vision for the future economy, the path for the next normal, practical procedures for applying for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and how to negotiate a favourable lease term.
As a member of MRVCBA, Joyce Li has benefited a lot from these projects. She owns a women’s clothing store in Markham and COVID-19 has hit her business very hard.
“I attended many of their webinars,” Li said. “But the most direct help I got from MRVCBA is that they printed a lot of shopping coupons for me and some other retailers for free.”
The coupons are designed to entice more people to make purchases. Customers who spend a certain amount will get a chance to win a raffle, with the top prize being a flight between Toronto and Hong Kong, sponsored by MRVCBA.
“It did help us restore some businesses, and the small business owners who participated are very grateful,” Li added.
With the advent of tCOVID-19 vaccines and the reopening of York Region, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, but no one is out of the woods yet.
In next few months, MRVCBA will organize several more webinars with the cities of Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan. Mayors or city officials will be invited to give briefs on their economy recovery plans.
Over the years, MRVCBA has increased its membership substantially, assisted with networking, promoted business interests and explored new business opportunities.
It has also organized and partnered with other non-profit entities to carry out numerous events for education, charity and general betterment of the community.
“Local businesses need the support from all communities to remain on their feet,” Leung stressed, “MRVCBA will continue to serve as an information bridge between the government and Chinese small businesses and do our best to help every member.”
The primary objective for the Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan Chinese Business Association is to better represent and serve its members across York Region and promote the interests and unity of the Chinese business community in the region. Especially during the pandemic, MRVCBA has brought a lot of help to many local small businesses.
Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun