Noise, dust and fencing for subway construction on Broadway has limited pedestrian traffic and hurt sales at Alper Tasdurmaz’ five-year-old Simit Bakery.
His Turkish-style bakery on West Broadway between Columbia and Manitoba streets thrived when it opened in 2018.
The COVID-19 pandemic crimped some sales, but what really gutted the business has been subway construction, Tasdurmaz told BIV.
“We’re still open, but struggling,” he said.
“From the beginning of the construction, we’ve lost almost $400,000 from our annual revenue.”
That is an almost 40-per-cent hit to his top line in an inflationary environment, he said.
Tasdurmaz’s wish is to see the B.C. government put money in its budget toward an ongoing fund that distributes compensation to merchants affected by public infrastructure projects, such as the $2.8 billion, 5.7-kilometre subway on Broadway that is set to be complete in 2026.
A chorus of other merchants and some Vancouver city councillors are also asking the province to create something similar to what the Quebec government did in 2019 in Montreal to support businesses that incurred losses due to nearby construction. Quebec contributed 80 per cent of $25 million to a fund, while the city financed the rest.
Merchants in Montreal disrupted by nearby public construction can now apply for up to $40,000 per year in compensation.
Retail Council of Canada director of government relations Greg Wilson is also urging the B.C. government to help affected merchants either in its upcoming 2023-24 budget, or with some of the $5.7 billion surplus that must be spent by the end of March, or by law go toward paying down government debt.
“Why on Earth, when we’re planning to build a piece of public infrastructure, would we not create a fund to compensate those businesses,” he said.
“There has been an awful lot of disruption, and there are a lot of those small businesses that have either gone out of business or have had dramatic and catastrophic losses.”
Wilson said recruiting workers remains a top priority for most retailers and that the B.C. government should also spend money in the upcoming budget to try to resolve that challenge.
More funding for the provincial nominee program could speed processing, he said.
One retail niche badly in need of workers is pharmacies, and more funding to post-secondary institutions to train pharmacists and pharmacy assistants would help, he added.
“Past governments have done small-business employee training grants, so that is something that they could consider,” said Wilson.
The requests follow the province saddling retailers with extra costs. On Feb. 7, for example, B.C. introduced a bill to create a new statutory holiday: Truth and Reconciliation Day, every Sept. 30.
Retailers and other business owners must pay employees who get the day off, or pay them time and a half if they work their shifts.
“I don’t know that anybody is opposed to one particular statutory holiday, but we’ve gone from 10 to 11 of them,” Wilson said. “That increases costs, probably by half of one per cent.”
Wilson expects the B.C. government to reveal exactly how much it will hike the province’s minimum wage around the same time as it releases its budget.
The province has told businesses that the minimum wage will increase by the rate of inflation, although exactly how high that will be is not clear, he said.
B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains last March told BIV that the province’s Fair Wages Commission travelled the province, consulted businesses and other stakeholders, and recommended what was a 2.96-per-cent increase last June. That amounted to a $0.45 increase, to $15.65, and stemmed from rounding up from what was then determined to be a 2.8-per-cent inflation rate.
Inflation in the province then soared to 8.1 per cent, before declining to 6.6 per cent in December.
“The cost of doing business in B.C. is astronomical,” said Marquis Wine Cellars owner John Clerides.
“I feel bad for the small, small businesses just starting out. It’s not necessarily supposed to be easy, but the walls are getting higher, and it’s a little bit concerning.” •