The Rickshaw Theatre stage on East Hastings has gone from hosting 15 to 20 concerts a month for crowds of up to 500, to just a handful of live-streamed events, and now to an empty, cavernous room and varying numbers of people online.
“My goal right now is just to make sure that I’m sort of in maintenance mode and kind of mitigating any costs that I have,” said business owner Mo Tarmohamed. “As long as my costs are covered, it’s not really a revenue-generating thing for me.”
The Rickshaw closed its doors March 14 when live performances became impossible, threatening to decimate the live music scene.
Typically, the Rickshaw employs 12 to 20 people over 150 to 160 nights per year. Since March, however, it has been a skeleton crew of three, including Tarmohamed, as caretakers to maintain upkeep and a public presence.
The federal wage subsidy and commercial rent assistance programs have helped the Rickshaw stay in its holding pattern, and the province has opened up its Amplify B.C. initiative to applications for venue operating expenses.
Tarmohamed is investing in the technical infrastructure to do more streaming and video work as additional services for bands once they do reopen, which might be the middle of 2021, or 2022 in the case of international tours.
“Over time, depending on how long it will take for us to get back to normal, you know, I’m worried that there will be some funding fatigue,” Tarmohamed said.
Fun and Games, arcade and games, Kamloops
Bri Corbett and her husband Dave sit down to do “a business health check” every couple of weeks to figure out whether they are gaining momentum, or at least not falling behind in the pandemic-era operations of their arcade and family entertainment spot in Kamloops.
“Our biggest worry is that if there’s another shutdown. That would be the death knell for us that we won’t be able to survive,” Bri Corbett said. “Even two or three weeks of being fully shut down as a business.”
The Corbett’s re-opened their revamped Fun and Games arcade June 16 after a two-month closure, but have been running on 45 to 50 per cent of their pre-COVID revenue, which doesn’t come close to covering the arcade’s $22,000 per month in base costs.
They took out a laser tag arena they couldn’t operate in favour of a retail shop selling novelties that they could, but the safety limit of 15 customers in a space that can accommodate 50 still makes it a tough go.
However, the Corbetts have investors who helped them take over the company in 2018 after having managed it for six years, and they have four years left on their business loan, so carrying on is preferable to giving up on the investment they have spent a decade building up.
“We feel that we do a very good job of sanitization and cleaning,” Corbett said. “But still, every time there’s something bad in the news, you notice it. If cases go up higher, it doesn’t matter if it’s here or in Fraser Health, it seems to be people get a little bit more reluctant to come in.”
The next round of the federal rent subsidy program would be the biggest help to keep business going, Corbett said, but they would appreciate programs that could be tailored to different kinds of business.
Their next big concern is that their revenues will keep running at about 50 per cent of normal through the winter and into spring, at which point “things definitely become a little darker for us,” considering the debts, between the federal emergency loan and rent deferrals building up on them.
Simpatico Ristorante, Kitsilano
Simpatico Ristorante has been an institution on West 4th Avenue in Kitsilano for decades, and business has “stabilized” since re-opening June 1 after a two-and-a-half-month closure. But that’s not to say that business is good, said owner Marinos Anagnostopoulos.
“The subsidies are what’s keeping me up,” Anagnostopoulos said of the federal wage subsidy program. “If it wasn’t for that, I would be having a very hard time. I mean, not to say it’s a good thing, because in the future, how are we going to pay this all off.”
Simpatico is breaking even while operating at about 50 per cent of pre-pandemic revenue, having also made use of the federal emergency loan program. He has a cooperative landlord as well, so he doesn’t need to tap rent subsidies.
In the long run, Anagnostopoulos worries about the weight of overall debt Canada is racking up, but is thankful for the support, particularly for “mom and pop” independent businesses having a tough time during the pandemic.
“If it wasn’t for the wage subsidy, I think small businesses would die, and then all you have is big corporations taking over everything.”
He re-opened with just three employees, “so it was extremely difficult.” A lot of his staff are also older and didn’t want to return during the pandemic, so Anagnostopoulos has had to find new employees to round up a workforce of eight or nine to serve a pared-down menu.
And Anagnostopoulos added that restricted hours and now unpredictable patterns of customer traffic make it difficult to schedule.
Curious Cat, gift shop, Courtenay
Kerry Amos re-opened her Curious Cat gift shop in Courtenay a little nervously in May after nine weeks of a COVID-related closure, knowing B.C. tourism was taking a big hit with the loss of international travel.
A strong “shop local” sentiment in her home market of the Comox Valley, which turned out to be a destination for Canadian visitors from elsewhere, however, have allayed at least some of her fears.
“I’m very close to the same,” Amos said of her post-closure sales versus pre-closure, “because our lack of tourism was less of a threat than we originally thought it was going to be.”
Curious Cat’s commercial rent is relatively modest at about $2,000 a month, and Amos’ landlord was quick in applying for the initial federal commercial rent subsidy. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit helped her through that shutdown period, considering she wasn’t eligible for employment insurance.
Amos didn’t qualify for the federal emergency loan program of up to $40,000, which is a crack she imagines a lot of small companies run just by their owners are falling through.
She is still nervous looking into the immediate future, after having to invest in Christmas inventory and COVID-safe protocols that limit occupancy in her tiny shop to six people. Small retailers can make a quarter to a third of their annual sales during the holiday season.
“If we have a shutdown in November, in December, we’re going to have a bigger problem, possibly, than we did in the spring,” Amos said. “All of a sudden that revenue we (usually) saved up to carry us through the winter months, in the rain and the snow, is not going to be there.”