The pandemic pain may be over for many, but small business owners saddled with debt are still hurting.

Revenue is lower than pre-pandemic. And now, government relief loans issued during lockdown are coming due.

There is no post-pandemic normal for small business owner Lucas Nault.

“The pandemic has destroyed my business and my life,” he said.

Part of one of the hardest-hit industries, his Lucas Nault Hair Studio on Somerset Street was often locked down during the pandemic.

He turned to CEBA early, with a $60,000 Canadian Emergency Account Loan helping him survive, at least temporarily.

“We’re at a point now where the debts are coming due, and the money is just not coming in the way it did pre-pandemic. Yet, they expect those things to be paid off quickly, and it’s just not a possibility – we’re going to see a lot of businesses close this year,” he said.

For eligible CEBA borrowers in good standing, repaying the balance of the loan on or before Dec. 31, 2023 will result in loan forgiveness of up to 33 per cent, up to $20,000. But Nault says other debts have piled up too, including taxes payable to the Canada Revenue Agency.

“And there’s no way I can pay my people, pay my debt, and pay the government at the same time. It’s just not feasible.”

He’s not the only one in this situation. OCOBIA, the Ottawa Coalition Of Business Improvement Areas conducted a survey of small businesses that sheds light on how small businesses are faring.

The majority are small businesses that have been operating for more than 6 years, and have less than 50 employees.

Among them, 69.5 per cent respondents reported that revenues were worse (this year) than 2019. Fifty-seven per cent intend to pay the full CEBA repayment by Dec. 31, 2023 to receive the 33 per cent debt forgiveness.

And 87.5 per cent say the CEBA loan repayment in full by Dec. 31 will impact business.

“What many businesses say, that if they are going to pay it back, it’s going to impact their growth; so, they will not be able to take that money and reinvest it into their business, they may have to lay off staff in order to payout, and some may just in fact close,” says OCOBIA Executive Director Michelle Groulx.

Groulx says many businesses would like to see a deadline extension or a greater portion of the loan forgiven.

“Understanding that when they did take this loan, nobody knew how long this battle was going to be and how hard they were going to be a hit.”

And the hits continue — with labor shortages, and ongoing supply chain issues.

“Supply chain and labor shortages don’t just hurt existing businesses, but also businesses that are working to open,” says Judy Lincoln, Westboro Village Executive Director. “It takes longer to get your fit-ups done when you’re waiting for shelving units to arrive, for display units to arrive, when you’re trying to secure contractors.”

As for Nault, after 18 years in business – he says he’s hanging on by a thread.

“I’m not looking for handouts. I just want this problem to be solved properly by the government.”