It might seem like strange timing to launch a business in the middle of a pandemic, but for many small Canadian businesses delaying a store opening isn’t an option financially.
On Friday, cannabis retailer Kiaro opened the doors to its new location in Port Moody, British Columbia, the same day the neighbouring city of Vancouver introduced fines of up to $1,000 for individuals and $50,000 for businesses caught not respecting mandated social distancing guidelines.
The opening was bittersweet, Kiaro president of operations Eleanor Lynch said. While the company was excited to open its doors in what she calls a cannabis desert — an area without any other legal stores — it also built up to the day by encouraging customers to stay home.
We've hired Community Health & Safety Officers to help keep our team members and customers safe during this difficult time, while still providing access to legal cannabis. #cannabiscommunity #safetyfirst #communityfirst #covid19 pic.twitter.com/gqApMa2Ujr
— Kiaro (@mykiaro) March 24, 2020
But with the couple hundred customers who showed up on opening day came an outpouring of gratitude, Lynch said. People were happy the store had gone ahead with its opening and were happy with the store’s safety precautions, which included reducing hours and limiting the number of people allowed in the store, she said.
This is Kiaro’s fifth location, which means it’s a small business without a financial cushion to fall back on if the provincial government orders them to close, Lynch said.
“We definitely can’t afford to close our doors. We’re a brand new business and that would be difficult to survive,” she said.
While many stores and services have been ordered to close to control the spread of COVID-19, cannabis stores will be allowed to stay open in Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan after being named an essential service.
That’s great news, she said, partly because Kiaro has two locations in Saskatchewan, and partly because if the government forces legal cannabis stores to close it will provide a foothold for the illicit market to come back.
If B.C.’s provincial government orders all of its regulated stores to close people wouldn’t stop buying weed, they’d just stop buying legal weed, she said.
“I think it would be devastating for B.C.,” Lynch said. “It would be devastating for the communities that have worked so hard and the municipalities that have put so much time into creating a legal framework and a legal channel.”
Without support 30 per cent of businesses will have to close in under one month: CDIB
Kiaro isn’t the only small business making tough decisions as the novel coronavirus forces closures across the country.
On Tuesday, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business released the results of an online survey where it asked how 11,283 businesses were doing.
All in all, 30 per cent of businesses said they will be ruined in less than a month under current conditions.
Around 55 per cent of businesses reported being partially or completely shut down, and 60 per cent have seen a significant drop in sales, CFIB said.
More than half of the businesses reported they have started laying off staff, and 25 per cent of businesses said they laid off all of their staff.
So far Kiaro has had some staff take voluntary layoffs, but more could be around the corner if sales tumble because customers say home, Lynch said.
“We’re just not sure what way this is going to go.”
Holy fuck. On Sun I & a handful of frustrated, terrified small biz owners threw together a website b/c we didn't think the gov understood gravity of our situation: https://t.co/GvOFm0ZEcn Since then 8000+ small biz shared stories. Small biz that are 30% of our economy are failing
— Erin Millar (@erinmillar) March 24, 2020
“We’ve paused our businesses to protect our communities’ health,” reads the website. “We’re willing to pay our share, but we need banks, landlords and the government to equitably share the burden. We’ll lose thousands of small businesses if measures aren’t taken.”
The website hosts a petition, which has been signed by more than 17,618 small businesses, calling for a pause on rent payments, an increase of wage subsidy to 80 per cent and deferred debt obligations.
The Discourse also created a google document where small businesses can report how the novel coronavirus has impacted their business. So far nearly 15,000 businesses have contributed, including several cannabis retailers.
Top image: Kiaro’s Saskatoon team pose for a group shot long before social distancing recommendations came into play. The team wasn’t able to take a group photo at the store opening in Port Moody because it wasn’t safe, Kiaro president of operations Eleanor Lynch said. Submitted photo