Diane Robinson hopes it's not curtains for her family-owned movie house in Terrace, B.C., as they try to come up with the money to repay part of their Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan by Thursday's deadline.
"It's tough to swallow," she told CBC's Daybreak North. "We are scrambling right now."
Tillicum Twin Theatres is an institution in the northwestern B.C. town — about 385 kilometres west of Prince George — boasting online about its "safe, relaxed environment ... comfy seats and BEST POPCORN you will ever eat!"
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the business took on $60,000 in loans offered by the federal government to stay afloat.
Those loans are now coming due with an incentive: businesses that manage to pay back $40,000 by Jan. 18 will have the remaining $20,000 forgiven. Missing the deadline means they will still owe the full $60,000, with five per cent interest starting to accrue on Jan. 19.
"My brothers and I had a conversation and we decided that we're going to try to pull together the $40,000," said Robinson.
"We're struggling to find a way to get it done by 4:30 p.m. [but] we're still working on it, so I'm hoping."
Despite calls for a reprieve from business owners and premiers across Canada, the government has held firm to Jan. 18, arguing that the deadline has already been extended twice, and pointing out the heavy cost of pushing it back even further.
But without an extension, the deadline looms as a breaking point for a significant number of small businesses, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
"There's just a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about having to pay back this loan so soon," said Annie Dormuth, CFIB provincial affairs director for B.C. and Alberta.
"About 20 per cent of B.C. small businesses say they might have to close if they lose out on the $20,000 forgivable portion. That's roughly around 40,000 B.C. small businesses across the province and 250,000 across Canada," she said.
'It's a government saying we don't really care'
Local MP Taylor Bachrach started a petition to extend the deadline.
"This vital family business and community asset is struggling to meet the January 18 deadline in order to access partial loan forgiveness," wrote Bachrach on Facebook. "Family businesses like Diane's deserve some extra time..."
Robinson said the government's hard line feels like a "kick in the teeth" with her family still trying to rebuild from the pandemic shutdown that forced the Tillicum Twin Theatres to lock its doors for 18 months.
A list from 2020 shows the extra safety precautions Tillicum Twin Theatres invoked due to COVID-19. (Diane Robinson)
"It's a government saying we don't really care about you little guys," she said.
"We're not saying we don't owe that money. Everyone in this boat knows this was a loan. However, it would be nice to have them look at some of these small businesses independently and work out a break."
The theatre, located on Terrace's main street, has been in Robinson's family for almost 60 years.
As a member of the Network of Independent Canadian Exhibitors, the business is one of many independent theatres in dire straits, she said.
"We're all talking about the same thing," she said. "These are family businesses. Some are getting ready to close their doors. Some already have."
More than 885,000 small businesses and not-for-profits took out CEBA loans, totalling more than $48 billion.
The parliamentary budget officer estimated moving the $40,000 repayment deadline to the end of 2024 would cost the government $907 million in the form of delayed repayments and forgone interest payments.