LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. -- Since many non-essential southern Alberta businesses have been forced to close or operate at a fraction of their revenue potential due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some small business owners warn that they are looking at tough times ahead, including possible bankruptcy.

“I’m afraid after all this is over, how many small business are going to be left” said  Swirls Ice Cream Lethbridge owner Steve Hirlehey, in a Wednesday interview with CTV Lethbridge. “Our landlord is cooperating, they are deferring our rent - but these are deferrals and loans that you have to pay back.”

Businesses are getting some help in the form of interest free-loans from the Canada Emergency Business Account but for some, loans may simply postpone the inevitable. A recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), shows many small business owners share similar concerns about their future.

“Near fifty per cent of Alberta small businesses are concerned whether or not they can survive if the current economic conditions persist past May.” said CFIB  provincial affairs director Annie Dormuth.

The CFIB is asking the province to consider offering hardship grants for small businesses.

“A direct cash payment for business that can be delivered to them easily,” said Dormuth.       

The organization is proposing small business owners receive up to $5000 a month, for as long as COVID-19 shutdowns last. Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan have already rolled out similar programs based on 15 per cent of a firm's total revenue.

Lethbridge West MLA Shannon Phillips says it's time Alberta gets on board.

Small business

“They need an emergency assistance for rent," Phillips said,  "In particular for those wage subsidies that have come from the federal government don’t cover those costs.”

Some believe that what’s at stake is more than just a few mom and pop shops.

It might just be the entire southern Alberta economy.

“Small business owners, (and) small business employees shop at other small businesses," said Hirlehe. "It’s the life blood of the community."