In a freshly painted room in the Annex, toy dinosaurs stand lined up on a bookshelf, a brightly-coloured rug covers the floor, and a guitar hangs at the ready on the wall.
The only thing missing are the families that Tennyson Miller and Kylie Precepa hoped would fill the space once they opened for business.
Gathering Wild, a pre-school and children’s play space, was meant to open over March Break and offer camps, classes and workshops. Then came COVID-19.
“We made the decision to close ahead of the social distancing measures. And so we never actually opened,” said Precepa, a registered early-childhood educator.
Now, the pair say they’re in desperate financial straits, bound to a two-year commercial lease without any revenue coming in.
As a business that never opened, they don’t qualify for the federal government’s wage subsidy or the Canada emergency business account (CEBA) loans.
“Maybe we can hang on for another month if we beg borrow and steal from our lovely family and friends that helped us paint and build this space,” said Precepa. “But they’re all in the same boat too.”
Hopeful for grants or rent relief
Precepa said they’re hoping the federal government brings in new grants or a commercial rent relief program —something small-business advocacy groups have been pushing for.
Speaking to CBC News earlier this week, Jon Shell, co-founder of a group called Save Small Business, predicted “widespread business closures” by mid-May without more help.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has also called on provinces to provide rent subsidies and hardship grants, similar to a program already announced in Saskatchewan.
Though some Toronto businesses have gotten breaks on rent, Precepa doesn’t think it should fall to landlords to take the financial hit.
“[Landlords] are humans too. They have bills to pay and a lot of debt that’s incurring,” she said.
The pair now fear that they’ll end up being sued for unpaid rent or forced to declare personal bankruptcy.
For now, it’s still unclear when — or whether —Gathering Wild will open.
“We have no idea what the future holds for us,” said Miller.
“We just don’t know.”