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West Shore business owners worry about future in wake of COVID-driven closures

Amount, eligibility for pandemic biz aid falls short, West Shore health club operators say
Gym manager Dirk Popen (left), business partner Melissa Baxandall and owner Craig Vasconcelos at the currently closed Eagle Creek Athletic Club in View Royal. The club’s status as a new business renders it ineligible for federal business pandemic supports. (Photo courtesy of Craig Vasconcelos)

Some West Shore business owners are voicing concerns that government aid intended to help them weather the recent wave of pandemic-related closures don’t go far enough.

Among them, Craig Vasconcelos worries the very survival of his Eagle Creek Athletic Club in View Royal is at stake without stronger government supports.

”It was a devastating blow when the closures were announced,” he said. “It’s not something we can sustain, making fixed expense payments without any income. Unless they open up these programs and offer them up to businesses that are newer, we won’t survive this.”

On Dec. 21, the province tightened public health restrictions on gatherings, including ordering liquor-primary bars and nightclubs, plus gyms, fitness centres and dance studios closed until Jan. 18. Two days later, the B.C. government announced the COVID-19 Closure Relief Grant, offering between $1,000 and $10,000 in aid for affected businesses, based on the number of employees they have.

Around the same time, the federal government announced it was expanding the Local Lockdown Program to include employers subject to capacity-limiting restrictions of 50 per cent or more, and reduce the current-month revenue decline threshold requirement to 25 per cent.

While the moves are better than nothing, Vasconcelos said, the new provincial aid is far from enough to cover his business’ losses. Plus, since he opened his business in 2021 he is not eligible for the federal aid, as it requires businesses to have existed before the pandemic started.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Island gym users and owners unhappy with latest round of regulations

Geoff Dawson, owner of Club Phoenix Fitness in Langford, said not only will the provincial aid he is eligible for not cover his bills, he still hasn’t been able to apply for it weeks after being forced to close.

“It forces a shuttered business to get by on their own for weeks with no money coming in before they can access the help they so desperately need,” he said.

The province previously said applications will open in early January when a dedicated call centre is set up, noting it will remain open until the end of February.

Making federal aid only available to businesses operating before the pandemic flies in the face of entrepreneurs being willing to take on risk and help strengthen the economy, said Julie Lawlor, executive director of the West Shore Chamber of Commerce. That is a concern business leaders and organizations have been voicing for quite a while, she added.

This mismatch between government supports and business needs is the result of a lack of cooperation between governments of all levels and the business community, Lawlor said. Earlier in the pandemic consultations were more effective, she said, and this was reflected in more aid being directed to the right people.

As time went on however, those consultations fell to the wayside and aid became less effective.

“Absolutely, with collaboration, change is possible,” Lawlor said.

READ MORE: B.C. closes gyms and bars, bans indoor organized events over holidays as Omicron surges


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Justin Samanski-Langille

About the Author: Justin Samanski-Langille

I moved coast-to-coast to discover and share the stories of the West Shore, joining Black Press in 2021 after four years as a reporter in New Brunswick.
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