What the business landscape in Yellowknife will look like once the evacuation order is downgraded is anyone’s guess, but one thing is clear: businesses in the capital haven’t had the best of times since the city was evacuated nearly three weeks ago.
Rami Kassem, the owner of Javaroma, talked about the financial strain he’s gone through.
He said that despite not generating any sales after Aug. 16, he still had to pay rent and suppliers.
“You don’t make sales, you still pay your rent,” said Kassem. “We have four locations when paying rent, no matter what.”
As September approached, the same financial obligations are looming with not much relief in sight. Kassem hopes that more attention will be given to supporting businesses affected by such emergencies in the future.
Kassem also shared his frustration with the lack of support for business owners, such as the $5,000 support package for businesses from the GNWT.
He said that’s not enough to cover the expenses of food waste, utilities, rent, and taxes.
He emphasized that business need immediate support instead of loans, as they are already struggling with debt from the pandemic.
Adrian Bell, president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, said many business owners have reached out to express their concerns and seek assistance with lobbying for solutions.
“This is a very uncertain time,” he said. “People are very worried. They’re terrified. People are losing sleep in recent days.”
He said that the shutdown of the economy has hit businesses hard, with many having to lay off their workforce.
There’s also the worry about not being able to get all of them back once things reopen.
“A lot of employees can’t afford to take three weeks or a month off with no pay, so they will have likely taken jobs wherever they’ve been evacuated to,” said Bell.
He added that the wildfires caught many business owners off guard and has raised fears that something like this could happen again.
“The idea that the entire town could be evacuated is something that not that long ago, we didn’t (think was possible),” he said. “I know that a lot of the businesses didn’t have business interruption insurance, and that means they have to eat the costs themselves. They can’t afford this again.”