Little by little, from a family death to watching her client base dissolve, it’s been a tough year for Jeannine Webster.
The owner of Wylde Rose Soaps in Brantford says a large part of her clientele is people who need gifts for weddings. Because of COVID-19, there haven’t been many weddings. She also provides gifts for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, teachers and promotions. With in-person events grinding to a halt, there’s less demand for her shop’s fragrant hand-made soaps.
Webster said she applied for an Ontario small business grant, but the process was confusing. Depending on who she spoke to, she got conflicting information about whether she qualified. Then, with a death in the family, she suspects she missed a deadline somewhere.
But she knows the result.
“Zero,” she said of how much she got in COVID relief money from the province.
Webster appeared alongside Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP leader and Hamilton Centre MPP, in a video news conference Thursday.
Horwath said the province needs to offer more grants, and with an improved application process, to help small businesses weather the impacts of COVID-19.
The province has offered two rounds of Ontario Small Business Support Grants so far, but Horwath said thousands of businesses were turned away. She proposes a Reopen Stay Open plan that includes:
- A broader third round of small business support grant payments.
- A $1,000 tourism and restaurant tax credit.
- “Targeted reopening support for personal care and service-based businesses.”
- Access to forgivable loans.
The first two rounds of grants, Horwath said, were “very confusing. Very chaotic. Very messy and difficult for people to access. We would make sure that that mess is cleaned up.”
Supporting the backbone
Horwath said small businesses are the backbone of the economy, but “we have to support that backbone and get that backbone strong again.”
In an email, the province’s Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade said the province has been a big help.
“As of June 23, 2021, the Ontario Small Business Support Grant has helped over 110,000 businesses by providing over $2.9 billion in support,” it said. “This is an unprecedented, historic level of support going out to small businesses — one that was made necessary by the global pandemic.”
The province also recently announced an Ontario Tourism and Travel Small Business Support Grant, which offers as much as $20,000 to businesses in the tourism sector. The deadline for applications is Friday.
Eligible businesses include fireworks display services, hunting lodges, food trucks, amusement parks, observation towers and hotels.
The province also offers grants to help with taxes and energy costs for businesses impacted by the pandemic lockdown, including garden centres, restaurants and museums.
‘I make soap, not policy’
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, released recommendations last month that back some of Webster’s experience. They include an easy-to-use information portal for small business owners to learn exactly what grants they qualify for, and how to apply.
Webster said she’s grateful for customer loyalty, but curbside pickup “is not the same revenue,” she said. “It’s far from it.”
She also worries that businesses will reopen and close a short time later because of the pandemic’s long-term financial impacts.
“Here we are at the end of June, six months into the year, and we have had our doors open for a total of eight weeks,” she said. “Eight weeks of customers coming in and buying the items that they want.”
As for how the application process should be changed, Webster said, “I make soap, not policy, so I’m not the best one to answer that kind of thing.
“However, easier is definitely what it needs to be. There needs to be better groundwork in terms of how we go about it, and who’s eligible, and it needs to be eligible to more businesses than it might have been before.”