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Yellowknife businesses coming to terms with financial blows

At Shawarma House, the wildfire evacuation spoiled business, literally.
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Billy Ray Villarin, the manager of Tim Hortons in Yellowknife, said both locations in town are back to normal sales. Kaicheng Xin/NNSL photo

At Shawarma House, the wildfire evacuation spoiled business, literally.

When the owners returned after three weeks away, they had to discard all perishable items. The estimated losses were up to $5,000 due to wasted food and other expenses. Additionally, utility bills and rent pushed the financial damages upwards to around $10,000.

Dyia Alhajjy, the son of the owner of Shawarma House, said his family was unable to pay the full rent immediately due to financial constraints.

He added that since the restaurant is a family business and they can’t afford to hire additional staff, the Franklin Avenue eatery has to stick to regular hours instead of opening extra days to make up for lost revenue.

“We’re a family restaurant and I still have kids to take care of during the weekend,” said Alhajjy, who works at the site.

At the city’s two Tim Hortons franchises, circumstances aren’t so grim. Manager Billy Ray Villarin said the uptown and downtown stores had to close their doors on Aug. 16 due to the evacuation orders. They reopened on Sept. 11.

“We’re running as normal,” Villarin said Tuesday, adding that sales quickly resumed the usual pace.

Although sales definitely took a hit during the wildfire disruption, the company continued to provide pay for its employees, he said.

On a personal note, Villarin expressed satisfaction with how things were handled during the evacuation.

“I feel I’m on vacation because everything is free.” he said, referring to the supports provided during the crisis, including the $750 in government funds available to those who drove out of the NWT and back again.

GNWT assistance

Wesley Cook, spokesperson for the GNWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, outlined several funding options available to businesses affected by the wildfire evacuation order. Up to $5,000 in operational funding is provided through the Support to Entrepreneurs and Economic Development (SEED) program for businesses that were closed during the evacuation.

The Business Development and Investment Corporation (BDIC) is also offering impacted enterprises up to $5,000 under its Wildfire Assistance and Relief Measures (WARM) initiative, Cook noted.

In addition, the territorial government is developing programs to aid hard hit ventures in some sectors, such as those involved in tourism and commercial fishing, according to Cook.

He added, “We encourage businesses to review their business insurance to ensure that they are taking advantage of any clauses that may provide additional support.”