World News – CA – Opinion: We are not all together


This is not a pity party, but an actual story about the effects of the pandemic on a badly affected business and the lives affected as a result

Back in grade 4, every time a whiny student complained, “This isn’t fair!” my teacher, Mr. d, would always repeat: « Life is not fair! » He was not rude or unhappy; it genuinely prepared us for the real world and the inevitable disappointments we all face.Not that we shouldn’t be striving for equity, but resilience is a crucial characteristic M re wanted to instill

Maybe he was setting us up for 2020, a year in which many of us wishing we could hide under a pile of COVID-19 coats created some winners (see Jeff Bezos) but lots and lots of losers who stay holding the bag For 20 years, I have been running my family business, in which I bought, a conference center in downtown Toronto called Vantage Venues Our business model is based on the rental of venues. ‘commercial office spaces that we have redeveloped for meetings and corporate events – which, if I say it myself, we are exceptional to execute This is a high overhead business and due to COVID sales have fallen by around 99%

This is not a pity party, but a concrete story about the effects of the pandemic on a badly affected business and the lives affected as a result

For us the flood of cancellations started a few weeks before the lockdown was imposed Fortunately our balance sheet was well prepared Because our industry is sensitive to economic downturns, we still run our business prudently We proudly filed our April rent check, as usual, kicked off a food delivery program to a women’s shelter and, despite putting employees on leave, we topped all of their EI premiums to 80% of their usual gross salary Once the curve was flattened, we would get back to business, right? There is a fine line between positivity and naivety, and I tripped over it and fell on the wrong side

SCAR, the federal government’s wage subsidy, is the most important But let’s be honest about one thing It’s designed to manipulate the economic statistic that matters most to politicians: unemployment I brought back 14 of our 50 employees on the payroll Some have more work than others, but everyone has come together What is confusing is that during the first four periods (16 weeks), any business whose sales have dropped by 30 percent received the same subsidy benefit Would love to be down just 30% The government has since changed the program to address this shortcoming, but for companies like ours that are down almost 100% it still doesn’t go far enough

CEBA is the $ 40,000 paid to any incorporated business with a 2019 payroll of between $ 20,000 and $ 1.5M Wait a second: because I employed too many people we are not eligible? We are most definitely a small business, but paying over $ 2 million in salaries means we are not eligible Full Disclosure: My dad and I get paid through a management company, which was actually CEBA eligible, which we received But this only confirms the flaw inherent in the program Any independent contractor, lawyer, doctor, etc., could receive $ 40,000 from the government and only needed to repay $ 30,000 whether their business was affected by COVID-19 or not

CECRA is the rent relief program designed to help both tenants and landlords I am also a co-owner of Lob Toronto, a bocce golf course, for which this program has worked well But if you pay more of $ 50K rent per month, you are not eligible That killed us at Vantage Venues Of course our rent is over $ 50,000! Space in downtown Toronto is the product we sell Why not allow a small business to contribute at least the first $ 50,000 of their monthly rent? We are fortunate to have a reasonable owner who has agreed to work with us But the pandemic leaves a huge mess that will take owners and businesses years to clean up

Finally, the BCAP Guarantee was a loan program that could be administered by your bank, in partnership with the government agencies EDC and BDC You might think of the announcement that the government guaranteed the loans, but it is not the case Business owners must sign personal guarantees for the sake of going into debt and paying administration costs in the hope that their business will recover Basically the government is asking us to double down at our peril We We opted for a BDC loan, a little less restrictive but still with a personal Yeehaw guarantee!

When COVID hit we thought we were reasonable in offering to extend guest deposits so that they can be used at any time in the future Some large properties were charging cancellation fees and most had a strict deadline To spare the details a rush on deposits would be catastrophic for us We could not give everyone back While 90% of customers were very understanding, it only takes a few to shrink your soul and make you understand that we are not all in the same boat

As for benefits, 40 employees are covered by our benefits program, which we have always been proud of, given its rarity in the hospitality industry Like most small business owners, we feel we have an obligation to our employees But at the very high monthly cost of these benefits, we have had no choice but to make changes

Then there’s the issue of pivots.People like to talk about how businesses should just pivot their business to something that is related to their heart.We have always been a provider of virtual events and webcasts, so it’s not exactly a pivot, but we are working as closely as possible with clients to participate in what has become an extremely competitive business.And there is the catch: everyone pivots in the same spaces

In addition to government programs and our own tricks, we have received a lot of help from like-minded friends, clients and business owners Although it is personally heartwarming to know that we are not not alone, the issues small businesses face must also concern the general public Although I have confidence in our survival, insolvency will be inevitable for thousands of small businesses, which are supposed to be the engine of our economy. So far, most of the failed businesses were likely in bad shape before COVID-19.But the second wave will be worse because, even for strong businesses, bills mount, sales prospects remain weak, and cash is scarce Jobs will be lost and dreams destroyed

Before COVID, two of the biggest social issues were inequalities and mental health Our response to the pandemic suggests we don’t care too much Jobs are more than money; they are also about the goal I asked my employees if they were ready to work when Ontario’s ‘third step’ started They all said they would make themselves available So when people say they shutting down their business to protect their employees, that’s nonsense They shut down because it’s not profitable to be open If people prefer to live in the « second stage », fine, that’s their right But people will suffer if we continue to live in fear When companies say they will work from home, they put restaurant workers and building cleaners out of work

There are no good options for dealing with COVID This is obviously a real public health issue, but there is another aspect of the ledger that also needs to be evaluated.This is the hard part, but if we don’t ask the right questions now, it will be too late Job losses are disproportionate at the bottom of the income scale Cannot continue to pretend there are no consequences It is essential to get people back to work, but if we can’t agree on how to do it safely, we need programs that work to assure people that their employer is creditworthy and that they have housing

Looking my employees in the eye is the hardest thing to do right now Some have offered to work for free or find other short-term employment With so little guidance on where our industry is heading and so little support from our government, I have no choice but to let many of them know that they need to take care of themselves and look for other jobs

I am incredibly fortunate to live in a beautiful area of ​​Toronto where people keep saying ‘we’re all in the same boat’ But nothing could be further from the truth Some people like to work from home without traveling; others cannot pay their rent Impact on business varies wildly, with many winners and losers It seems our political leaders must have complained to their grade 4 teachers and got the answer  » Life is not fair! »

Andrew Hodd is President of Vantage Venues and Lob Toronto He also sits on the Council of the Americas of the International Association of Conference Centers

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