The two grants given out by the province were the Small Business Impact Grant, which was first announced in April 2020, and the Small Business Re-opening and Support Grant, which was first announced in July.
Eligibility for both grants required establishments to have lost 30 percent of their business year-over-year from 2019 to 2020, based on either April or May numbers. Restaurants were given a grant equal to 15 percent of sales revenue from either April 2019 or February 2020, up to $5,000 for each grant program.
Of the 1,120 restaurants that applied, 995 received the impact grant and 1,001 received the reopening grant, meaning only about 11 percent of applicants got denied. Also applying were 163 drinking establishments, who received just under $1 million between them.
Data analysis of the grants by The Coast shows that a fifth of the restaurants that got funding were chain restaurants or franchises. (The data for the second wave of the Small Business Impact Grant has not been released, as applications are still open until January 31, so it was not included in the analysis.)
Among the chains that got up to $10,000 in funding from the Nova Scotia government were 40 Subways, 33 Tim Horton’s, 11 Boston Pizzas, 11 A&Ws, 11 Pizza Delights, seven Swiss Chalets, six Pita Pits, six Cora’s, six Dairy Queens, four Booster Juices, four Second Cups, three East Side Mario’s, three Freshiis, three MacDonalds and two Burger Kings. The data does not give a breakdown of which specific franchise locations applied.
These “small business” grants were earmarked for businesses that “were directed to close or to substantially curtail operations,” according to the government—a large number of whom were dine-in restaurants that had never done takeout before COVID-19. On Jun 3, just before restaurants re-opened after the first wave, Premier McNeil told Nova Scotians “What’s really important is for all of you to support your local businesses. They need you and they want to welcome you back. So think local, buy local, support local."
But Lara Cusson, owner of Cafe Lara on Agricola Street, which was heavily affected by the pandemic closure, says the government didn't follow through.
"We reached out on several occasions to the province, to the department of business, to the premier, to Dr. Strang, many times looking for simply conversation, collaboration, building a partnership, and we just weren't met with that type of response at all," she tells The Coast in a phone call.
There’s no breakdown of who got exactly what, but the listed establishments received an average of $8,217 between both grants. And with 214 chain restaurants on the list, that adds up to an estimated total of over $1.7 million dollars.
That left the other 80 percent of the funding for restaurants that weren't chain franchises. In Halifax, this includes businesses like The Canteen (which will remain closed until January 26), Bar Kismet and Sushi Shige.
Cafe Lara received both grants as well as a second round of the Small Business Impact Grant, but Cusson says none were the maximum amount of $5,000.
"I did not get the total amounts," she says. "You had to do a percentage of your sales from certain months of the year, and those are not the busiest months."
Cusson says she's grateful for what she did receive, but along with other business owners says she will continue to ask the government to provide even more support for small businesses.
"There are lots of things that they could do to help us right now," says Cusson. "For instance, they could reimburse our liquor licenses from 2020-21, they could pro-rate our eating establishment fees since we didn't have people eating in our establishments for three months. They could put a hold on our HST penalties, they could extend the cap on residential property in HRM to extend to small business. These are all things that they could announce."
In total, $6.5 million dollars went to 906 local restaurants across the province, providing money to pay rent, keep the lights on, and figure out new ways to adapt to the COVID-19 world.
For comparison, the province has committed $1.7 million for 40 shelter beds in Halifax as the number of people without homes continues to rise. This money making up only a fraction of the $580 million dollars the province has spent so far responding to Covid impacts.