The Alibi, local Kingston bar, permanently closes its doors

Owner says decreased student presence in fall would cause local businesses to “really suffer” 

The landlord changed the locks after The Alibi missed its April rent payment.

The Alibi, a local Kingston bar, has permanently closed its doors because of the operational challenges associated with COVID-19.

Owner Bruce Davis made the announcement on May 17 in a post on The Alibi’s website, in which he referred to COVID-19 as a forest fire approaching Kingston.

“I thought about the forest fire hitting Fort Mac a few years ago and what it must have felt like to be a business owner when everything is wiped out,” Davis wrote in a statement to The Journal. “The image of an impending forest fire kept coming back to me as I started writing [the post].”

Although Davis had been considering selling or closing The Alibi in January, he said the pandemic made the decision much easier. 

“When bars were closed in Kingston mid-March with zero confirmed COVID-19 cases, I knew we were unlikely to come back,” Davis wrote. “When the landlord changed the locks in April, I knew we were done.”

The landlord changed the locks after The Alibi missed its April rent payment, which Davis is personally liable to repay. 

With business owners in Kingston’s downtown facing similar situations because of the pandemic, Davis said every restaurant and bar is facing closure unless their owners have deep pockets or own the building they’re located in. 

“Retail stores are a bit easier to reopen, but they will take a long time to dig out of this mess,” Davis wrote.

He noted two factors he thinks are making downtown Kingston a particularly tough location for businesses right now.

“[T]he first is that commercial landlords [in the] downtown [area] are an oligopoly, which distorts the market for commercial space,” Davis wrote, alluding to the small number of landlords that own a large portion of the downtown core’s space. “[A]nd the second is that if [enrolment at] Queen’s and St. Lawrence [College] drops this September, downtown will really suffer.”

Davis added the effectiveness of resources made available to small businesses by the federal government is dependent on individual situations, offering positive feedback on the wage subsidy and the CERB’s ability to help retail and hospitality workers and managers. 

However, he pointed to some issues with the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) and the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA).

Administered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the CECRA aims to provide forgivable loans to commercial property owners to cover 50 per cent of three months of rent payments. The loans are available to landlords who are renting to small business tenants experiencing the economic impacts of COVID-19.

“The commercial rent subsidy is dependent on landlords, which is a problem. [T]he money really should have gone to the tenants, that needs to be fixed,” Davis wrote. 

The federal government launched the CEBA, which is implemented by eligible financial institutions in cooperation with Export Development Canada (EDC), to provide interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to small businesses and not-for-profits. 

The $25 billion program aims to help these businesses cover operating costs during the COVID-19 period, when their revenues have been reduced because of mandatory restrictions on operations. 

“The $40,000 emergency loan is a great idea, except it depends on the banks to be fair,” Davis wrote. “Our bank was predatory, so that's a problem.”

The Alibi looked into using the CEBA for assistance. However, Davis felt he couldn’t comply with the terms set by his bank for the loan. In his post, he explained there were 18 pages of fine print, including the stipulation that his bank could change the terms of the loan or cancel it at any time. 

Davis also noted that, to remain eligible for the loan, The Alibi couldn’t approach another bank for support. The federal government required applicants to have an active business account with the financial institution providing the loan prior to March 1.  

He said, in the end, it was important to share The Alibi’s story with the community because of the relationships developed inside the bar.

“Our story is about bringing people together and over time, our staff and our customers have grown together into an ecosystem of relationships,” Davis wrote. “Over the past month I have been avoiding posting anything, but I knew I had to say more than just ‘thanks, next.’”

While his post leaves open the possibility of a new owner taking over The Alibi next year, Davis is looking toward a future beyond the bar.

“I’m sifting through some non-profit and business ideas in Kingston, but, in the meantime, I am doing consulting on affordable housing and renewable energy and helping to start a cidery, so that keeps me busy for now,” Davis wrote. “[I]n the aftermath of a forest fire there are also seedlings that start to grow. So there's the threat, but also hopefulness.”

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