P So sad! Although High River isn’t a boom-and-bust coal town - TopicsExpress


P So sad! Although High River isn’t a boom-and-bust coal town like Grande Cache, June’s flood could force the town’s small business community to collapse unless the province injects much-needed cash into the local economy, said Jomha, president of the Chamber of Commerce. “It breaks my heart,” she said repeatedly Thursday as she walked though High River’s downtown. “Everywhere you go, you don’t see the bustle of a thriving community.” On Tuesday, the province announced a “hand-up plan” for small business owners, not-for-profits and agricultural producers affected by the flood. That plan, the Alberta Flood Recovery Loan Guarantee Program, provides “low-interest” loans up to $1 million, 75 per cent of which would be backed by the province, through financial institutions. Loan recipients will be eligible as well for rebates of four per cent interest for two years through the Alberta Flood Recovery Interest Rebate Program. “The government wants to offer a loan program, but how do you pay that back when you don’t have any income coming in,” Jomha said. More than a month after the flood swamped the southern Alberta town, shops and restaurants still sit empty and boarded up. Residents, after all, have homes to repair and rebuild. Shopping and dining are far down the priority list. Many storefront windows are still broken, shattered by waves of flood water. Damaged electrical wiring sits in piles. Danger signs are taped to doors. Most businesses in the town’s commercial area remain closed. The restoration industry, however, is booming, as teams of contractors work to remediate buildings, many now infested with toxic mould. On the south end of town, the Home Hardware store and its lumberyard sit empty. A sign out front reads: “summer help wanted”. A reminder of a work season now lost, said Jomha. She talks of insurance companies that won’t cover claims for business owners. Landlords who demand rent be paid. Scavengers who have picked the town’s bones clean of seemingly discarded metal. “She had her mixers outside just to dry,” said Jomha, pointing to the Cakery Bakery. “And some disrespectful person comes along and scoops up the mixers worth $50,000 and walks away.” Outside the heavily damaged Wales Theatre cinema, the showcase details the last film before the June 20 flood swept the town: a weeklong run of the comedy, Hangover 3. “That is when life ended,” said Jomha. But signs of life are slowly emerging inside the town. A weekly farmers’ market started Thursday. About a dozen vendors sold wares and services at the market, now located at the Shepard Family Park. Displaced business owners are being offered free tables until they can reopen. The booths at Evelyn’s Memory Lane Cafe — one of the few downtown businesses open — are packed around noon. Coffee flows. Lunches are served and devoured. “We’re very, very happy and lucky,” said Evelyn Zabloski, the former owner of the cafe who still works there. “We feel like we’re able to provide a bit of home for people.” However, the success of the cafe will largely depend on how fast neighbouring businesses reopen, Zabloski cautioned. “For now, this is wonderful for us, but it won’t last unless other business get back up and running as well,” she said. But getting back up and running will be an uphill battle for business owners like Linda SOjer. SOjer’s downtown clothing store, Creative Accents, was hit hard in the flood. She lost about $300,000 in retail goods, store furnishings and fixtures in the flood. Her insurance won’t cover any losses. Suppliers are demanding payment. And it could be months before any provincial aid arrives in the mail. Additionally, SOjer’s Calgary-based landlord evicted her from the building 24 hours after she was allowed back into town, and now expects her to continue paying her rent. “I have another two years on (the lease) … and I have no income right now. None,” she said. “It’s business and I have to remember that part of it. This is a lease and I signed it. Unfortunately, I signed a personal indemnity, which means he can now come after my home.” Her options are few. Unlike residential tenants who are afforded some protection under the provincial landlord and tenant act, business owners are effectively at the mercy of their leases. “The lease is commercial, so there’s no governing body to protect me,” she said. “I’ve talked to so many lawyers who have said you have to take it to court.” Still, she intends to fight for her business and stay in High River. Though she’d like to see the province step up and offer flood-affected businesses something more than a loan. “We’re fighters. We can get through this,” said Sojer. “But it’s people understanding that you can’t just give us a loan and say go start up again. For retail it doesn’t work that way.” Like SOjer, Deanna Green’s business, the Pioneer Barber Shoppe, was heavily damaged in the flood. Unlike SOjer, Green’s landlord isn’t demanding rent until she’s back on her feet — something she intends to do “come hell or high water.” “We’re going to have to rethink High River,” said Green, a 40-year resident of the town who also lost her home in the flood. “A lot of business owners want to go back to where we were downtown, but we’re all afraid that if they don’t do something to fix the river, we’ll end up doing this again next spring.” Green praised the province’s recently unveiled loan program, but added any financial aid needs to be provided as soon as possible in order for businesses to survive. Her words were less kind about landlords who are threatening legal action and insurers who are denying claims. “I believe in karma,” she said. “This is a small enough town that we’ll know the two best companies to get insurance … and those landlords will be chased from town because no one will rent from them.”
Posted on: Fri, 26 Jul 2013 22:10:57 +0000

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