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Bars and nightclubs ‘teetering on brink of insolvency’ as COVID closures extended

Bars, nightclubs and lounges without food service must remain closed until Feb. 16
Chairs are turned upside down on the bar at a closed restaurant, amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C.’s public health officer has extended restrictions that order all bars and nightclubs to close until at least Feb. 16 — bad news for an industry already hard hit by nearly two years of disrupted business.

READ MORE: B.C. reopening gyms, fitness on Thursday with COVID-19 precautions

Jeff Guignard is the executive director of B.C.’s Alliance of Beverage Licensees. He said that the industry anticipated the order would be extended and while it’s frustrating for many, business owners do have options.

Bars and nightclubs can skirt the closure order by offering a full-service food menu. Guignard said some businesses have brought in catering or partnered with food trucks for the time being.

“Nightclubs can have a partnership with the restaurant next door to become their catering company and put their menus on tables and provide meals to customers. It’s a bit clunky and it’s not necessarily going to work for everybody but it’s an option.”

Guignard said bar and nightclub owners are feeling “deep frustration” as the closure order came into effect on Dec. 23, causing the businesses to lose out on lucrative Christmas and New Year’s Eve events. Revenues generated during that period help bars and nightclubs get through their slowest period of the year in January and February.

The provincial government recently opened the B.C. COVID-19 Relief Grant for businesses impacted by the Dec. 23 order. Originally, businesses could apply for grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the size of their business. On Jan. 19, the province doubled the amount of the relief grants, bumping the range to $2,000 to $20,000 for businesses like bars, nightclubs, lounges and events venues.

Still, Guignard said the grants do little to make up for lost revenue.

READ MORE: B.C. businesses closed by COVID orders can now apply for relief grants

READ MORE: B.C. doubles COVID relief grants, up to $20K for businesses still shuttered by restrictions

“The grants are useless. On New Year’s Eve, one of our nightclub owners was refunding tens of thousands of dollars in reservations — it was supposed to be a $120,000 night. He found out he qualified for a $5,000 grant. Great — that doesn’t do anything.”

According to estimates from the Alliance of Beverage Licensees, 15 per cent of B.C.’s hospitality industry is already gone and another 15 per cent are on the brink of closing.

“These places are teetering on the brink of insolvency at any given time and the only solution for those places is to get them back to work and get out of this pandemic,” Guignard said.


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