‘Anything helps’: Winnipeg businesses welcome financial relief during COVID-19 lockdown

Winnipeg businesses are taking all the financial help they can get, as they prepare to survive a third COVID-19 lockdown that will last at least three weeks.

On Monday, the Manitoba government announced a fourth round of bridge grant funding that will payout $5,000 to eligible businesses and non-profits impacted by lockdown restrictions. Premier Brian Pallister also announced an additional top-up of $2,000 for restaurants.

Meanwhile, City of Winnipeg finance committee chair Scott Gillingham and Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) have put forward a motion that, if passed, will make another $1,500 available to in its own business grant program, Gillingham told CBC News.

“Anything helps at this point,” said Ravi Ramberran, owner of Four Crowns Restaurant and Hotel and the St. James Burger & Chip Co. in Winnipeg.

“What I like this time is it’s a lot more forthcoming, whereas last time it was very reactive.”

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, announced over a dozen public health orders that targeted taking away opportunities for the public to gather. They took effect Sunday and will be in place until at least May 30.

Among them included closing dine-in service for restaurants, bars and patios. They can do takeout or delivery only.

About 1,800 restaurants throughout Manitoba will qualify for the $2,000 top-up announced Monday, and there is also some money to help restaurants shift to a delivery model, Pallister said.

‘Everyone’s getting their butt kicked’ 

The past 14 months have been “a rollercoaster ride” and many tough decisions have been made, including sending layoff notices to his staff over the weekend — again. This time 35 of his 47 employees were cut, said Ramberran.

The overhead costs at Four Crowns is from $70,000 to $80,000 a month, so lockdowns really hurt the business, he said. But the funding will at least cover part of the costs, easing the burden.

“Some guy’s are getting no rent support from whoever owns their properties. Everyone’s getting their butt kicked,” he said.

Ravi Ramberran, owner of Four Crowns Restaurant and Hotel and the St. James Burger & Chip Co., is happy that his and other businesses will receive funding. But notes many won’t survive a prolonged lockdown. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

“Nobody wants [the lockdown]. The politicians don’t want it, the doctors don’t want it. But we have to protect each other and fight together to get it down — and the faster we do it, the faster we get back.”

Ramberran acknowledges that not every Manitoban will agree with decisions made by political leaders, but being more transparent with industry stakeholders and the general public would at least allow the public to understand the decisions being made, he said.

Rent relief sought 

For Roger Williams, who runs Cancentral Card and Supply, a sports card shop that has been in Winnipeg’s Sargent Park neighbourhood for 28 years, the announced funding will go a long way.

As of Sunday, retail stores in Manitoba can allow up to 10 per cent capacity of 100 people (whichever is lower). But Williams was recently told that his business, given the area of the shopping floor, could serve a maximum of three customers at a time.

He was also told by his landlord that it was too much work for the landlord to do what was necessary to get Williams some rent relief, Williams said.

But his biggest beef is that his shop has been visited by public health inspectors twice in two weeks.

The card shop passed both times, but Williams wonders if larger stores are being scrutinized the same way.

“I don’t think that anybody is a fool to say maybe they should be checking out some bigger box stores, etc, for how many people are in there,” he said.

Eligible businesses should receive their $5,000 from the provincial government some time this week, said Pallister.