When I was 17 years old my parents split up. I can still remember the moment like it was yesterday. I reminder thinking at the time that this moment marked the beginning of adulthood for me and that from then on I was on my own. My Dad moved out of town, my Mom struggled to cope with the loss, and I moved out into my own apartment. This event strengthened me in many ways; I was self sufficient, hard working, and rarely asked for help.
Such was my determination when my former partner and I opened Hemma back in 2007. In May of that year we leased the space on May Street and I began the process of building Hemma. I drew out the design on a piece of graph paper and commenced construction. 4 months later after a lot of hard work and some help from a few friends we opened our doors. At that time there were maybe 5 yoga studios in town and no community acupuncture clinics — Hemma was the first one in Canada to open. With nothing more than some determination and hope we opened our doors to serve the community.
Service has been my commitment to the world since I was in my twenties. At that time I dedicated my life to the service of others and have let the universe decide how. For the last 13 years we have served our community by offering yoga and acupuncture. We have offered our services on a sliding scale to allow more people to access our services, even giving it away at no cost to those who were unable to pay. All of this has been a labour of love and a journey of faith.
As I write to you today we have been closed for one week. The labour of love and journey of faith continue. In one week we have gone from a thriving place of service for so many to a cold empty building. It reminds me of the days right before we opened where all I had was vision and hope. As the pandemic takes it toll on us all the reality that Hemma might be one if its casualties sinks in and once again I reminded of the fragility of life.
As I said I am not one to often ask for help. I am not even sure how anyone can help in a situation that is so unprecedented. But I did want to reach out to everyone who has been connected with Hemma to say thank you for being a part of our dream and vision. I hope we are still here to provide a place for you when this current crisis is over. Know that you are not alone and that even though we are not able to offer you a cozy nap in a recliner, or a blissful moment on the mat, we are with you in solidarity.
Here is a letter I wrote to government officials last night. If you feel moved to help, please send it along to your representatives. If you feel moved to reach out to me you can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am writing to you this evening as a small business owner. I have successfully operated a small business in Victoria for the past 13 years. I have employed about 15-20 people on average during that time. All of them including myself were laid off last Wednesday March 18th. From that date none of us will have an income and only a few of us will be eligible for EI. In addition the business has zero revenue, all the while still having to pay rent, insurance, utilities, and other operating costs. This situation is unprecedented — I don’t know anyone who included pandemic in their business planning. We have been asked to close as a public health duty. While this action may hopefully save precious lives and reduce the impact on our health care system, it may also mean the demise of many small businesses in our community if we do not all act as one within the next few weeks.
I am writing to you as a government official to plead with you to act quickly and powerfully to provide aid and assistance to us. One of the most useful acts would be to freeze rent payment for commercial rentals. We need a halt to rent for at least 2 months. As it looks right now many businesses will need 4-6 months to get back to normal, assuming events unfold in a somewhat predictable manner with COVID 19. All of us as small business owners understand the risks. of being business owners but this situation is something none of us were prepared for. I have spoken to several of my fellow business owners over the past few days and everyone I have spoken to is in a similar boat — zero or greatly decreased revenue. So far none of them have been granted any rent relief by their landlords. Most of them have maybe 2 months cash on hand before they are bankrupt. As I rode my bike to work today, driving across town, almost every business I came across was closed, meaning my friends and I are not alone.
I understand how difficult it is to make these decisions so quickly and to implement them even faster, but I am pleading with you to act in a manner that government is unaccustomed to. Over the past week we have heard lots of promises from federal, and provincial governments that help is on the way. But these promises are meaningless if we do not get immediate help within the next few weeks. For me, without this relief, 13 years of hard work, employment, and meaningful contribution towards my community will be history. Please help us by providing meaningful and immediate help in the form of a rent freeze or real cash in hand.