Vancouver to refund fees for some struggling small businesses

    The City of Vancouver is giving back to businesses hardest hit by the pandemic. They will receive rebates on some city fees, and city leaders have expanded the program.

    VANCOUVER, Wash. — The Vancouver City Council has approved an extension of a program that began early in the pandemic that reimburses fees for some local businesses.

    Trade fee reimbursement is not for everyone. It is aimed at businesses that rely heavily on the in-person customer experience; restaurants, cafes, entertainment and gyms are the main recipients.

    That includes places like Java House, where the last two years have been difficult.

    “You know, it’s hard to say exactly how bad it’s been, because it’s so much worse than I thought possible,” said co-owner Lonnie Chandler.

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    Chandler and his wife Cora are entering their 32nd year at Java House, where their once-strong business is down 75-80% during the pandemic.

    “It was almost like being closed, sometimes we were the only ones here,” Lonnie said.

    The couple just learned about the city’s business fee reimbursement, which returns the $90 per employee the city collects annually as a surcharge on business license fees.

    “It might not sound like a lot, $400 or $500, but it’s a lot … and it turns into a lot for our vendors who then get paid, which are often small businesses like ours,” Lonnie said.

    Part of the reason the city has extended the fee refund is that only 17% of eligible businesses have taken advantage of it so far.

    “We took our application and reduced it from 21 questions to eight, in a simplified way,” said Teresa Brum, deputy director of Economic Development, who said they have streamlined the process and are spreading it better.

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    “The only way we can get the refund is if they apply to us, so we have to close that gap and help them apply for that refund,” Brum said.

    Brum said they are communicating in various ways, including email and social media in English and Spanish, to reach more business owners.

    A little further up Main Street is the Kiggins Theatre, which is still suffering from the effects of recent years.

    The owner was lucky enough to buy a pizzeria across the street that kept him going. Dan Wyatt said he will apply for fee refunds for both locations.

    “I appreciate anything the city can do to help, especially the locally owned small businesses … we live here in the city, we pay our mortgage here in the city,” Wyatt said.

    Back at Java House, Lonnie Chandler said that the refund they will get will add up to some real help:

    “That’s a lot of cups of coffee, that’s a lot of scones and muffins, that’s a lot of espresso beans.”

    So far, the city has refunded about $96,000 in fees. He anticipates spending around $500,000 on the rebate program by the time it ends.

    Click here for more information, including to see if your business qualifies for surcharge fee reimbursement.