Many of the NWT’s small business owners fear they are in for several long, hard months as measures aimed at restricting the coronavirus pandemic kick in.
Increasingly, nations are moving to ban gatherings of people and encouraging residents to effectively “shelter in place” by remaining at home where possible – limiting their ability to spend time and money at businesses like restaurants, bars, or retailers.
Already, Cabin Radio understands takings at some Yellowknife Airport outlets have dipped so low that daily income is nowhere close to the cost of operating.
The Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC), responding to an enquiry from Cabin Radio on Monday, said it would push back a deadline for businesses to make payments from April 1 to May 1.
“This decision was made in the best interests of employers and workers,” WSCC spokesperson Maggie Collins said, “to enable employers to focus on making the necessary preparations for health and safety in response to Covid-19 and to help lessen the financial pressures on businesses at this time of uncertainty.”
At the legislature, Premier Caroline Cochrane said the territory would be “looking at things like loans, how we can make those easier for people.”
However, Cochrane told MLAs it was still too early to know for sure how her government might help small businesses survive.
“The federal government is also doing that work. They are looking at it,” Cochrane said. “There have been no promises yet, is my understanding.”
So with no obvious help immediately on the horizon, how can ordinary NWT residents do their part to help out local businesses?
‘It’s not solely on the consumer’
“Right now we, as a community, need to support those small businesses that we love,” said Stacie Smith, owner of Flowers North and a city councillor in Yellowknife.
“In the coming weeks we might see some small businesses fold but it can be prevented,” Smith told Cabin Radio.
She urged residents to make orders by phone, or online where available, to help keep local businesses alive – and also told business owners themselves to do more to “remain visible on social media” during the expected economic crunch.
“Post what is new in stock, videos of the store, walkthrough. Promote yourself to stay relevant,” Smith said. “The struggle to stay afloat is not solely on the consumer.”
Her own store in the YK Centre mall would, Smith said, be “cleaning diligently to ensure we are keeping the public as well as ourselves safe.”
Restaurants are already beginning to close in Yellowknife – Flavour Trader at the city’s museum has shut its doors temporarily, though that closure was enforced as the museum itself suspended operations over coronavirus concerns.
At Tim Hortons outlets, dining areas were closed with customers told to purchase food and drinks but consume them elsewhere.
As yet, the NWT has issued no guidance recommending the closure of restaurants, bars, or stores.
In other parts of North America, residents have suggested buying gift cards from restaurants, bars, and other businesses – either online or by phone – instead of your regular purchase.
While not enough on their own, gift card purchases could provide a small boost that helps keep a business going while giving a consumer something to use at a later date.
‘Buy made-in-the-NWT products’
“It has been a wild week, obviously, but we are settling in now for the long haul,” said Eric Binion, owner of Barren Ground Coffee – a Yellowknife speciality coffee producer with a new store in the city’s downtown, having moved from Old Town last year.
“Please continue to purchase made-in-the-NWT products,” he added, “even if they cost more.
“Our coffee, though competitively priced with southern small-batch roasters, does cost more than PC brand or Kicking Horse.
“However, it is of the highest quality, most of it comes with organic, fair-trade certifications, and our business provides part -time employment for seven Yellowknifers.”
Binion said residents should trust local retailers to be following the chief public health officer’s recommendations, alongside regular environmental health regulations.
“We are taking proactive measures to go beyond what is already requested of us by the government,” Binion said, “and I’ve since seen similar posts by Javaroma, the Brewpub, and Copperhouse.
“For example, we’ve effectively cut out any customer interaction with anything in our food process. The next step will be to close our store front. If so, our product will only be available at the local grocery stores.”
Binion said residents who have been out of the country in recent days, or who have symptoms related to Covid-19, should steer clear of stores.
Customers can buy online from Barren Ground Coffee or send emails to make an order.