LETHBRIDGE -- A new survey of Lethbridge businesses found more than a third say they're not sure whether they'll be able to pay their property taxes by the extended deadline of Sept. 30.

Compiled for the the Lethbridge Region Economic Task Force, the survey looked at the effects of COVID-19 and comes as the province is getting ready to move to Stage 2 of its relaunch strategy later this month.

The survey was conducted between May 14 and May 26 and provides insights into the concerns businesses had as provincial measures to reopen the economy got underway.

In total, 202 business owners were consulted as part of the second survey, which found:

  • 38% of businesses will be unable to pay or were unsure they’d be able to pay their property taxes by the extended deadline of Sept. 30
  • 26% of businesses anticipated having a cash shortfall of at least $10,000 over the next 30 days
  • 52% said they would need to make at least 76% of their typical sales to make it worthwhile to stay open over the summer

Trevor Lewington, CEO of Economic Development Lethbridge, says this information is a vital piece to helping businesses recover, reopen and relaunch.

“Some places will need to look at different business models. That can mean different delivery or staffing systems, or ways to streamline operations," he said.

"With the opening of our physical storefront for business owners in the near future, we can help them navigate these difficult decisions by providing advice from professionals willing to volunteer their expertise in a variety of categories."

More than half of the respondents also expressed concerns over how to make customers feel comfortable, as well as managing social distancing.

“It speaks to the fact that the business community is still trying to figure out how best to navigate the public health guidance and set themselves up for success,” Lewington said.

“Even though I firmly believe most business owners are taking all the right precautions, they’re also dealing with perception.

Some other key findings from the survey included:

  • 25% said they can survive one-to-three months in the current context without additional support
  • 33% didn’t meet the criteria required to access the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy
  • 62% of businesses believe the loss of revenue requirement to access the Rental Assistance program is too high

“As businesses look to reopen and plan for the short and long-term viability of their operation, surveys like these help the task force and other organizations focus on what needs to be done now and into the foreseeable future,” said Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce executive officer Cyndi Vos.

“It’s not going to be easy, but if we can work together with government and industry we can try and chart a path to economic recovery for our region.”                                        

When it comes to the Rental Assistance Program, the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce has posted a letter to the federal government asking them for a re-evaluation of the program.

“About 37 percent of businesses are stuck in not being able to access and use the program which would be very, very helpful," said Vos.

"A lot of it is not understanding the relationship between the landlord and how to go about doing the loan, and things like that."

Honkers Pub owner Vicky Vanden Hoek is one of those business owners dealing with the new normal.

While she didn’t participate in the survey, Vanden Hoek says she’s always talking with other people in the hospitality industry and the reality is the same for many of them.

“It’s been a rocky boat. We were really happy when we got to open on May 14, we kind of expected a lot more people being excited to go out to eat in a restaurant again but that hasn’t happened yet," she said.

They were hopeful that with no new case numbers locally in the two weeks following reopening that would change, but it still hasn’t. Honkers are open at 50 per cent capacity, and Vanden Hoek says they’re probably getting about half that most days.

“So, 25 per cent is a little tough to keep operating. We’re just hoping people will come out and support all of the local pubs and restaurants in the area,” said Vanden Hoek.

Safety is the name of the game in the new normal, and to that end, Honkers has implemented the appropriate safety measures to make sure it’s safe for customers and staff, even at their new outside parklet. They even hired new staff to clean every table, every chair, everything that could be touched.

“When people come in we sit them and we ask them to stay there unless they need to go to the washroom, but if they move, then we have to totally cleanse everything,” Vanden Hoek said.

She’s hopeful that as things continue to progress, they’ll begin to see more people feeling more comfortable dining out.

“Lethbridge is an awesome place. We don’t have an international airport, we don’t have a lot of people coming in and out. The curve here has been low … I think it’s safe to go out. We just need everyone to use common sense, wash your hands, don’t touch everything, no hugging for the time being and I think we’ll be alright.”