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'We could go bankrupt in a couple of months,' says frustrated Newmarket store owner

'I am bleeding money so fast right now with the malls being empty,' says Lil Gem owner at Upper Canada Mall
Kimberly Harvey Chase inside her store 'My Lil Gem' at Georgian Mall

It was fall 2020 when Bradford business owner Kimberly Harvey Chase opened her first jewelry retail business, My Lil Gem, in Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket.

Before the start of the pandemic, Chase's business was seasonal, and she worked as a vendor throughout the warmer months at festivals and craft fairs. 

When events were shuttered at the onslaught of the pandemic, she pivoted her business model to open a retail store inside the Newmarket mall, hiring staff members and even expanding to add a second location at Georgian Mall in Barrie. 

Throughout the pandemic she has received $20,000 in government supports, but she says it's simply not enough. 

"I tried several times to apply for the rent and payroll subsidy but I don't qualify," she said, noting because she pivoted her business during the pandemic from seasonal to year-round, she doesn't match the criteria for the federal supports. 

On Jan. 7, 2022, the Ontario government introduced a $10,000 grant for small businesses that were subject to closure. Since Chase's stores are still open, she does not qualify for the grant. 

Chase says she has about $65,000 in debt that she has accumulated throughout the pandemic, trying to keep afloat, but is at the end of the rope when it comes to receiving any more loans. 

"I don't have a lot more borrowing power to go longer," she explained.  

Chase was planning on adding another store location in Bradford this spring, but now she says she won't be able to. 

"I am bleeding money so fast right now with the malls being empty," she said. 

Currently, malls and shopping centres are allowed to be open at 50 per cent capacity, but even so, she says not many shoppers are coming to the mall, citing apprehension surrounding the contagious omicron variant. 

She is frustrated because a lot of the provincial supports introduced earlier this month are for businesses that are completely closed. Although she is able to stay open, she says there is a decrease in customers and sales but she still must pay for rent, utilities, products/inventory. 

For her, she said it would have been better to have retail businesses shut down to receive government support.  

"We're open but bleeding money at a rate we could go bankrupt in only a couple of months," she said.

Chase has an online store which is currently being updated but notes she hasn't had much traffic on it. To entice buyers, she even offered Canada-wide free shipping, but that didn't help much, noting many will often turn to Amazon instead. 

"People choose the easiest route instead of searching a local business," she lamented. 

The provincial government has offered support for business owners throughout the pandemic to help with building websites and online sales platforms.

To be profitable Chase said she needs to be making $15,000 in sales per month, per store. But now, instead of selling the $400 to 600 per day she needs to be, she is selling less than $100 per day. 

She said even if she were to sell $11,000 a month, she said the debt could be manageable, but at this rate, it is unsustainable and worries about the future of her business. 

"We would still run a negative but at least those bills were paid and can focus on payroll," she said. 

With schools closed, Chase must stay home with her two children instead of being at the store, another expense to have an employee working in her place. 

She has four staff in Newmarket, three in Barrie, and one floater who travels in between. She has no overlaps scheduled, with only one person in the store at any given time.

"Their hours are 30 to 40 per cent less than what they were before," she said. 

Yesterday, the federal government announced it would be extending the loan forgiveness deadline for small businesses to December 2023. The Canada Emergency Business Account offered interest-free loans of up to $60,000 to small businesses and not-for-profits. 

For now, Chase is hoping to be able to hang on until her current leases are up later this year, and keep her eight employees on the payroll. She also hopes to see more people choosing to shop local, and support small businesses to help them get through the current COVID wave.