‘Very unfair’: Much of wedding industry doesn’t qualify for provincial pandemic support

WINNIPEG —
Code Red restrictions in Manitoba have been tough on local businesses, and not everyone qualifies for provincial help.

Recently the province introduced the Manitoba Bridge Grant Program, a grant designed to support Manitoba businesses that were financially impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. Many in the wedding industry, however, feel like they’re slipping through the cracks.

Emily Wood, the owner of Stardust Photography, said most of her income is made photographing weddings, and when COVID-19 hit, she lost nearly all of her revenue for the year.

“I was supposed to have 30 to 35 weddings this year. The majority of them have rescheduled to an unknown date next year because we don’t know if we’ll be able to gather again,” said Wood.

Under Manitoba’s current public health orders, gathering sizes for a specific occasion like a wedding is limited to five people, leading many people to postpone or cancel their special day.

Wood operates her business out of her home, and she was disappointed to learn that working from home was part of the reason she didn’t qualify for the Bridge Grant.

“We all received a similar message yesterday stating that if we didn’t have a brick and mortar storefront, we would not be eligible for that support.”

Wood said many businesses in the wedding industry work out of their home.

Lauren Wiebe owns Stone House Creative, a floral design studio that operates out of a double garage in her backyard.

She was disheartened to learn that working from home was the only reason she wasn’t eligible for the Manitoba Bridge Grant Program.

“DJ’s, musicians, caterers, there are just so many of us who don’t need a storefront to be able to work, but every other eligibility criteria (is) met.”

Wiebe understands why gatherings can’t happen right now, but she wants more support from the province during the pandemic.

“We just hope to have the eligibility criteria widened so that you don’t need to have that retail space in order to access the program,” she said.

Wiebe said the wedding industry in Manitoba makes most of its money from May to October, so many in the industry haven’t had a “real paycheck” since October of 2019.

In a statement to CTV News, Finance Minister Scott Fielding said the Manitoba Bridge Grant offers $5,000 to businesses directly ordered to shut down by current health orders.

“More appropriate federal programming may exist for ineligible businesses that were not ordered to close but that are experiencing reduced market demand.”

The province said it’s spending up to $50 million to support business organizations like the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce to create a long-term recovery plan that would help small businesses in Manitoba.

Wood believes the eligibility criteria for the Manitoba Bridge Grant Program is neglecting a large group of local businesses.

She created a landing page using the hashtag “my business is not a hobby” to boost support for those in her industry struggling to stay afloat.

“A lot of us feel that it is very unfair that the same government that asks us to pay taxes will not provide the support they publicly promised,” Wood said. 

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