Skip to content

Opinion: Burnaby hair salons are charging a ‘COVID-19 fee’. Is that fair?

Should businesses cover the costs or customers?

Nothing will compare with the human toll that COVID-19 has taken on the world.

But it’s OK to also detail how many businesses are struggling during the pandemic. Many were closed at the start of the pandemic, reopened and then closed again during the second wave.

It’s been a tough road, with many closing down forever and small business owners losing everything.

So keep this in mind as I discuss a complaint I’ve heard from several readers. They are upset about some business owners charging a COVID-19 fee to cover some of the costs associated with such things as enhanced cleaning measures and PPE. I wrote about this issue last year in relation to some restaurants doing this. The photo above shows what one local restaurant was charging.

Lately, some Burnaby residents have expressed some outrage at hair salons charging a $5 fee per customer.

“My senior mother goes to the salon often and can pay $20 a month for the COVID fee,” writes Anna. “I feel comfortable that the place is clean and safe but if every patron is paying $5 each time, the result could be very lucrative and in the end the COVID fees may pay their rent in a salon. How much extra cleaning supplies are they needing? You figure even if just 20 patrons a day visit the salon that’s $100 a day.”

Another reader called it "gouging" but that feels like a hysterical reaction.

Look, I get it. Nobody wants to pay more money. And it is a tricky issue of whose responsibility it is to pay for these safety measures. The Province of B.C. has mandated certain conditions to keep a business open and that increases the costs for business that are already struggling.

I’ve heard from business owners on both sides. I feel for customers but I’m on the side of the businesses who are facing oblivion – especially small businesses - although it is risky charging extra when you're trying lure back customers.

The situation is dire.

Nearly 20% of Burnaby businesses are “at risk” of closing due to COVID-19.

That’s the estimation by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which released the results of its latest survey of businesses across the country.

The CFIB made an estimation of businesses in the province that are at risk of closing, with a range of as low as 10,200 and as high as 30,000 (between 6 and 18%). 

Furthermore, job losses could be as low as 123,500 or as high as 357,900 (between 7 and 21%), said the CFIB. Variables like pace of economic recovery, access to support and financial assistance, and government policies could impact real outcomes. 

One in six (181,000) Canadian small business owners are seriously contemplating permanently closing, putting more than 2.4 million jobs at risk (20 per cent of private sector jobs), said the CFIB in an update to its earlier estimate on business closures this past summer. This latest estimate is on top of the 58,000 businesses that became inactive in 2020.

The latest data on CFIB’s Small Business Recovery Dashboard shows business recovery in B.C. has remained relatively unchanged since November:

  • 64 per cent of BC businesses are fully open 
  • 39 per cent of BC businesses are at usual or greater staffing capacity 
  • 30 per cent of BC businesses are making normal or better revenues

Small business recovery in BC has stayed relatively flat since November, while other provinces such as those with greater lockdown restrictions have taken a significant step back on their paths to recovery.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.