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COVID-19 devastates hospitality industry; numerous layoffs, hotel bookings plunge

As of today, there are no bars open in Nunavut and restaurants can only serve takeout meals.

The Storehouse Bar and Grill, pictured, the Legion and the Chart Room were forced to shut down as of the end of the day Thursday due to Nunavut’s public health emergency, precipitated by the coronavirus COVID-19. It’s unknown when they’ll be back in business. Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

More than 100 staff at Iqaluit bars and restaurants have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and the resulting public health emergency measures.

“There’s a huge impact to the business itself but (also) to community members here in Iqaluit. It’s 60 jobs that are taking a hit,” said Steve Sullivan, general manager of the Storehouse Bar and Grill, the Frob Kitchen and Eatery and and the Frobisher Inn.

Guest reservations at the 95-room Frobisher Inn have plummeted over the past few weeks, Sullivan acknowledged.

He said Nunastar Properties — the parent company of the hotel, restaurant and bar — will assist its laid off employees in arranging for employment insurance and also help some of them with travel to be with family.

“We’re working with everybody to minimize the impact… to let them know that they’re not alone,” said Sullivan.

The company is also promoting job-sharing where applicable to spread employment hours around as much as possible, he added.

At the Iqaluit Legion, manager John Graham said there was a lot of fast-flowing information to process from the territorial and federal governments, which the Legion’s board would have to review and act on.

“We hear lots of announcements on the television – the government seems committed to providing resources but, I mean, as of this hour we don’t know how to access that yet,” he said. “It’s going to be on the to-do list.”

Not only are 36 full-time and part-time Legion staff affected, but so to are daycares, cadets and other groups that benefit youth and elders which will lose their share of funding from the Legion’s profits, Graham noted.

He acknowledged that the number of patrons at the Legion had dropped substantially over the past few weeks as concern over COVID-19 grew.

Milan Mrdjenovich, owner of the Chartroom sports lounge, couldn’t be reached for comment. However, he posted a tweet on March 18 that referenced the pandemic and a March 17 break-in at his Iqaluit business.

“Due to last night’s robbery at the Chartroom, as well as the current situation with the Coronavirus, we have decided to shut the Chartroom down until further notice,” Mrdjenovich wrote on Twitter.

Despite the uncertainty of the moment, Sullivan expressed optimism that this bleak period will pass and a rebound will occur.

“We want our staff to know that, as a company, we’re not going anywhere,” he said. “We’ve been here for 50 years. We will be back and we’ll be stronger than ever.”

Among the $82-billion financial aid package that the federal government announced earlier this week in response to COVID-19 was the extension of the Work Sharing Program to 76 weeks. This program provides employment insurance benefits “to workers who agree to reduce their normal working hour as a result of developments beyond the control of their employers,” according to the Government of Canada.

There’s also a 10 per cent wage subsidy lasting up to three months, up to a maximum of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer.

The Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada have been given $10 billion in credit targetted at small and medium-sized businesses.

The new Indigenous Community Support Fund consists of $305 million to address immediate needs in Inuit, First Nations and Metis communities.