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Vancouver refunds fees for some pandemic-stricken businesses

The city of Vancouver is giving back to businesses hurt most by the pandemic. They'll be getting refunds on some city fees, and city leaders extended the program.

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

The business fee refund is not for everyone. It's geared toward businesses that rely heavily on the in-person customer experience; restaurants, coffee shops, entertainment, and gyms are the main recipients.

That includes places like Java House where the last couple years have been tough.

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

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Chandler and wife Cora are going into their 32nd year at Java House, where their once-strong business is creeping back from being off 75-80% during the pandemic.

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

The couple just learned about the city's business fee refund, which gives back the $90 per employee that the city collects annually as a surcharge on business license fees.

“You now it may not sound like a lot, $400 or $500 dollars, but it is a lot .. and it becomes a lot to our suppliers who then get paid, who are oftentimes small businesses like ours,” said Lonnie.

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

“We took our application and reduced it from 21 questions to eight, simplified," said Teresa Brum, Deputy Director of Economic Development, who said they've streamlined the process and are getting the word out better.

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

Brum said they are reaching out in various ways including emails and social media in both English and Spanish to reach more business owners.

A little further up Main Street is Kiggins Theatre, still suffering from the past few years.

The owner was fortunate enough to purchase a pizzeria across the street that's kept him going. Dan Wyatt said he will apply for fee refunds for both places.

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

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

“It's a lot of cups of coffee, it's a lot of scones and muffins, it's a lot of espresso beans.”

So far, the city has refunded about $96,000 in fees. It anticipates it may spend about $500,000 on the refund program by the time it ends.

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

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