Climbing and small business Covid Challenges

staff at hub climbing, mississauga

April 16, 2020

Small businesses, particularly in the recreation, restaurant and tourism sector, may end up shouldering a disproportionate cost for the current lockdown.

We at Hub Climbing have closed our two climbing gyms to help protect our community from Covid-19 here in Southwestern Ontario. We are proud to have been able to help, but are concerned that small businesses like ours may end up shouldering a lot more than our fair share of the cost.

I hope that those of you with small businesses, whether in restaurants, tourism, fitness or recreational share your concerns with your provincial and federal government representatives. The time to speak up is now.

Steven Brown, steven@hubclimbing.com, owner, Hub Climbing

Banking:

It's not working.

  • It's unfair to ask small business operators to take on more personally guaranteed debt to be able to pay our fixed costs while we are forced to close. We are helping society and yet are being forced to be individually liable.
  • The Federal $40,000 loan offers a conditional $10,000 subsidy which is not even sufficient to cover one week of our rent bills.
  • Notwithstanding the low amount of money offered, the thresholds for this program unfairly disqualify a lot of small business owners.
  • BDC, the Crown's own bank, charges small businesses the standard interest, principal and admin fees still despite mandatory closure.  As of this writing, they offer less Covid-19 help than the chartered banks.

Insurance:

Are we getting the coverage we paid for?

  • Our insurance does not honor the business interruption coverage we paid for. Our businesses have been interrupted due to no fault of our own. We paid for business interruption for a case just like this. What is the government doing about this?
  • Zero refunds have been offered for our years of good-will payments towards business interruption. Where has that money gone?
  • Small business operators should check if their insurance requires they visit their closed premises every 72 hours or will not cover property claims. Don't assume you are covered just because you pay your premiums!
  • The insurer has not provided any refund on prepaid dues even though their risk of liability approaches zero. Why are they not passing on the savings from lowered risk while we are all closed?

Our People:

The 75% subsidy is not helping yet. But don't disband it too soon either.

  • Our people have been furloughed. Many have mortgages and rent and this was the most heartbreaking thing we have ever been forced to do. We maxed out our line of credit so we can pay them a bit longer but in reality it barely helped them at all. We feel so helpless on this one.
  • 75% wage subsidy: Many small businesses won't even qualify but if they do, the business owner must wait 4-6+ weeks for payback. Many small businesses often don't have cash reserves to front this cash. If we had the cash it would go to pay down debt, not to a chest of cash. This wage subsidy does not work for many of us.
  • Even if we could use this program to help keep staff employed we don't know how to afford the 25% while there is low to no revenue for weeks, months or even years. With no revenues come in, paying even 25% of payroll for long enough will kill any business.
  • I hope the government does not prematurely stop this 75% wage subsidy when we can re-open. Until a vaccine is found, we could see months of closures and/or reduced demand for high touch-point businesses. Wage supports will be important in future months and perhaps years to avoid layoffs and bankruptcies.
  • I am curious Why 75%? Why not 100%? We are 100% closed, not 75% closed.

Will unique small businesses be able to re-open?

If we all make it through this cash crunch, these potential governmental oversights could destroy us.

  • A one-size-fits-all hygiene standards model for re-opening. Many of us won't be able to re-open unless this is thought through carefully. In our case, we cannot climb up a 49 foot dragon after each customer touches it to spray each climbing rock down! 
  • Which brings up the big question: Who coordinates community input on what re-opening hygiene standards should be? I have not been able to find any government committee or department to help make sure that we properly balance contagion reduction while keeping also in mind small business sustainability. If the federal government simply tasks the Health Ministry to come up with rules who will speak for all these unique businesses? Is the Health Ministry going to make exclusions for movie theaters or require them to wipe down each seat after a showing? Will they think of climbing gym operators? Will they think about trampoline parks or the myriad other unique operations in our province?
  • I hope they avoid Arbitrary rent abatement for only some small business sizes. I just saw news from Germany that if you run a 9,000 square foot, or smaller, "small business" you can get a rent subsidy. Many small operators rent 15,000-35,000 square feet units. Please don't arbitrarily cut us off!
  • Visitation quotas. If small businesses are forced to re-open with limits to attendance, our revenues will be lower than our original business model and financial plan required. How can a restaurant survive if they can only let a fraction of traffic in, but have the same fixed costs? How will fitness gyms cover their costs? How will airlines make their margins with a plane only 20% occupied?

Rent:

Rent deferrals are another type of loan we may be asked to shoulder.

  • Small landlords are in a particularly hard position too. They are not the bad guys, they didn't cause this virus or lockdown. How will they get assurance that they will be able to cover their own payments? The government's silence here just ratchets up the pressure that small landlords face and it is us small businesses who they will pass their stress on to.
  • Rent deferral (which may small businesses are currently facing) just puts the pressure on small businesses to pay back yet another sort of "loan".  We hope that future government solutions properly help the landlords so that these don't trickle down to us. Many of us small businesses cannot make back the revenue that we lost on the days we closed down.
  • We'll likely be seeing 6-18 months of rolling closures and probably a lower consumer demand level for our services. Consumer purchasing activities especially in high-touch businesses may be depressed. We can expect break even will be very difficult for many small businesses. We and especially our government leaders need to think about this economic situation not in terms of weeks but in terms of months and years.