The results from the recent COVID-19 island business survey have alarmed many in the business community including executive director of the Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce, Jessica Harkema.
The response and recovery survey, a joint initiative of the Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce and the Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC), was sent to local businesses to gauge how the pandemic is impacting business.
Harkema expected bad news, but the scale of challenges presented by local businesses was more than she anticipated.
“Almost 60% of the businesses who responded to our survey are very experienced. They know how to run a business – in normal times at least. But the pandemic has thrown many business owners into deep waters,” says Harkema.
The survey garnered close to 100 responses and asked businesses a range of questions, such as whether or not they will be able to restart once the pandemic recedes. About half of the respondents said they would reopen, but the rest were unsure – many stating that the answer depends on how long COVID-19 related closures last.
The top concerns for business owners are disappearing cashflow, collapsing demand for their products, and supplier disruptions – all adding up to a challenging environment for any business.
The survey also paints a picture of island business owners having to transform businesses overnight from main street frontages to online retail. Another survey finding points to the long-term impacts the COVID crisis will have on Salt Spring’s economy, including event bookings.
Keeping spirits high is also proving a challenge for many business owners, with many indicating they will be lucky to break even. Salt Spring Island has many businesses that are single owner, and these types of owners often have other income streams making it difficult for them to qualify for the relief programs being offered by governments.
Morale has also been impacted for business owners who do not qualify for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) while others are receiving $2000 per month to stay home. Many said they would do just that if they were eligible to do so.
In spite of the uncertainty and challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis, many survey respondents reported feeling fortunate to be living in such a great community. Respondents asked for the promotion of a ‘shop local’ attitude, which would encourage more islanders to shop on Salt Spring for other products in addition to food and produce.
“The consequence of not buying local is empty storefronts, loss of culture, resilience, and community,” says Harkema.