(Tracy Holmes photo)

‘It’s just the language of it,’ Surrey businesses association says of COVID-19 ‘charge’

But Surrey Board of Trade says it’s good that businesses are being ‘clear and transparent’

A Surrey business association is concerned about how a COVID-19 “charge” could be perceived as businesses in B.C. start to re-open as part of the province’s phase two of its Restart Plan.

But others are applauding the businesses for being “clear and transparent.”

Dean Barbour, the executive director of the Fleetwood Business Improvement Association, said he was made aware of a new charge at some Surrey businesses earlier this week after people contacted him to complain.

“We don’t need to tell our customers that we’re in trouble. I think we’re past the point, there’s been enough negativity in this. Let’s do more to support (local).”

He said some businesses, including a hair salon in Fleetwood, have implemented a COVID-19 surcharge to recoup some costs after mandatory and voluntary closures, due to restrictions in the province because of the pandemic.

“My issue isn’t with the charge itself, my issue is with how it’s being implemented and it’s being called a “COVID service charge,’” Barbour explained to the Now-Leader.

“I said, ‘I don’t think this is going to be a good idea.’ I understand there’s additional costs, but embed those costs into your pricing structure. People will be fine with it. That’s the approach we’ve been asking people to take.”

But Barbour wants to know what happens when the pandemic “goes away.”

“Are you still going to charge the tax or the surcharge? For some, it’s a couple of bucks,” he said. “But when you get to a point where this is over, or we’re moving forward, what are you going to do with that lost revenue now? If it’s $7 or $10 per person, per client, that adds up real quick. Then are you going to embed that in your pricing structure? Then why not do it now and avoid the negativity to it.”

While he’s not opposed to the increase in prices, Barbour said there is some negativity involved.

“It’s just the language of it. It’s the negativity of it. It’s the line item.”

However, Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said she’s not surprised this is happening.

“I completely understand where these businesses are coming from and the way that they’re messaging it is really with the times in terms of what people will understand,” she said.

“Whether it continues, what the second wave of the virus is going to look like remains to be seen, but this is the new reality of our economy and businesses need to find a way to cover their costs. They’re trying to be transparent. I think that’s a good thing.”

She said everyone is “in this together,” but that “unfortunately some of the costs are going to have to be passed on to the consumer in order for the business to be able to accommodate the health and safety preventative mechanisms to ensure that the virus isn’t spread.”

“I always say it’s important to be clear and transparent,” Huberman said. “Because it’s all about building trust. It’s trying to ensure that we can get consumers to go into a space and spend money. And yes, that money that they’re spending will be increased to a certain extent. But perhaps even the offering of goods and services from a certain business will be modified, it’ll be limited.”

Asked if she thinks this additional charge could last long-term, Huberman said she feels it will “eventually” phase out.

“But it’s going to be a couple of years.”



lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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