One year after the wildfire and many small business owners are struggling to keep their doors open.
Michelle Van Der Haegen, Owner of Pyramid Dental tells Mix News the thought of closing down is creeping through her mind.
She says the last year has been tough and while business is starting to come back, progress is very slow. Noting it’s unlikely that her business will get back to full operations anytime soon.
“Nobody I talk to thinks it’s going to be back within a year to where it was before.”
To help spark activity, Van Der Haegen is looking at adding different services.
“What it means is having a full time dentist come in, but it’s something I have to build towards, right? So, I have to have clientele to come in, so the dentist will want to be here full time.”
Van Der Haegen adds she’s still waiting for additional support from the RMWB, which she says will help her hire a receptionist. She notes her husband is the main reason she’s still open as he’s been very supportive both mentally and financially.
Van Der Haegen know’s she’s not the only small business owner struggling, as she spoken to many who’ve closed completely due to finances.
“I know that I’ve talked to a couple that had to absolutely close down. The reasoning was more of a landlord situation where they demanded that they pay all the lease that they owed and it couldn’t be done.”
Karen Collins, Owner of Asti Trattoria Italiana, is also fighting to keep her businesses afloat. She says while she’s trying to stay positive, the thought of closing up shop has crossed her mind.
“Have good days, have bad days. It sort of strings on. All of a sudden your mailbox fills up with a bunch of invoices and you say, oh my gosh business hasn’t been that good, do I keep going, how can I keep going? It’s a matter of paying your staff first and paying your bills, so it does cross my mind.”
Collins notes from Monday to Thursday their numbers are really low, averaging between 16-30 customers, while Friday’s and Saturday’s, they may see up to 80 people.
“I’m hoping that we see a marked increase or at least marginal increase by the end of this year and hopefully going into next year. I’d be happy if we see a 30 per cent increase.”
She notes she’s thankful for all the RMWB and Canadian Red Cross has done to keep them going.
Last May, Wood Buffalo council endorsed a five-year, three-phase business recovery plan to help businesses recover after the fire.
Since then, the Canadian Red Cross has given $28 million to 3,296 small businesses in our region, while 675 businesses split $4.5 million in funding from the RMWB.
One owner who’s benefited from these supports is Kirsti Hines, who runs Hines Health Services.
Hines says she was back to full operations just three months after re-entry. And in the last couple of weeks has hired seven new casual nurses and met their number one strategic goal after getting an oil company contract.
She adds a mix of good fortune, a need for her business, as well as help from the RMWB and Red Cross are the reasons why she’s back at full operation.
“With that money we were able to focus on marketing, hiring more staff and essentially getting back to businesses and not having to be so consumed with insurance, insurance, insurance. So, having that funding available was a big part of our success.”
Hines notes during the evacuation everything seemed very “gloomy” adding her success has been a huge surprise.
The RMWB just wrapped up a survey asking small business owners what type of support is still needed. The results have yet to be released.
Listen below to hear the full conversation with these owners and how they’re coping one year after the wildfire.