This Vancouver restaurant is one of thousands of British Columbia businesses lost to pandemic

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After shutting down in March due to the pandemic, Robert Belcham said he just didn’t see a way to reopen his Vancouver restaurant, Campagnolo, and make it thrive.He decided to permanently close the Italian spot on Main Street after 12 years.

“The future doesn’t look great,” Belcham said. “We wanted to be on top of things and not struggle for the next two years. ”

” We are tired. I’m tired… 12 years is a long time. “

Robert Belcham, owner and executive chef of Campagnolo restaurant in Vancouver, says he will miss the regular customers who frequent his establishment. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

It’s an emotionally difficult decision, Belcham said, especially since it means 25 employees will lose their jobs.

“When they ask me, ‘where can I work?’ I don’t have an answer for them at the moment, ”he said.

Campagnolo is not the only one to close its doors: more than 25,000 businesses closed in British Columbia between March and April of this year, according to new data released by Statistics Canada.

The numbers paint a grim picture of how businesses have fallen victim to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Figures show corporate ‘devastation’

Bridgitte Anderson, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, said it’s not a secret affair that has been difficult for many entrepreneurs.

“These numbers show the real devastation,” Anderson said.

“And that’s not even a complete picture,” she adds, as the numbers don’t include May, June or July.

At the start of the year, there were 131,074 active businesses – where at least one person was employed – but by April that number had fallen to 117,005, a drop of more than 10 percent.

A stark contrast can be seen between February and March, when British Columbia entered Phase 1 of its response to COVID-19 and many businesses were forced to close their doors in response to public health measures.

In February, just over 6,700 businesses closed, but by March that number had risen to 11,847. And then 13,715 more businesses closed in April.

Many businesses in British Columbia have been forced to shut down during the height of the pandemic. While many have reopened, thousands have not. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

Metro Vancouver takes huge losses

A large percentage of the closures involved the most populous region of British Columbia, Metro Vancouver.

According to Statistics Canada, 15,919 businesses closed in Metro Vancouver between March and April.

Anderson says many businesses in the area don’t plan to shut down until May or June, so she predicts the numbers will get even worse.

“Closures only show the snapshot,” she said.

Anderson says every time a business closes, it creates a ripple effect that puts other jobs at risk, including suppliers and contractors.

A man crosses a street in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, March 23, 2020. Anderson says retail and restaurants are two of the hardest hit industries. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

Among the hardest hit sectors, Anderson says tourism, accommodation, food services, retail, construction and personal services are at the top of the list.

She says some businesses have been able to go online, which has helped them survive, but many others didn’t have that option and were forced to shut down.

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade is working with the government as part of its task force on economic recovery and Anderson says his organization is pushing for short-term relief from the province in the form of reduced regulatory burden and taxes.

Looking at the bigger picture, she says the focus needs to be on investing in digital infrastructure and helping businesses transition to a virtual environment to survive the pandemic.

“It is imperative that the government not only look at what it can do in the short term, immediately, but also how we are going to be able to transform our region in the long term,” she said.

Already vulnerable restaurants

Belcham says the hard-hit restaurant scene needs to use this time to reinvent itself.

He said too many were vulnerable before the pandemic due to the “race to the bottom” competition over menu prices.

This has made profit margins slim for years and it means staff are not being paid or getting the perks owners would like to offer.

He hopes customers will begin to understand the situation and adjust their expectations.

But for now, he wants them to support their favorite haunts by eating more.

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