Gayle Robinson hangs up a jacket on full racks on Friday.

She is the only person in her store, Robinson’s Outdoor Store.

The staff is laid off and for the first time its 91 year history, its doors are shut.

“We closed on March 17th. And that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is close this store,” Robinson said.

The news that there is significant federal help for small and medium-sized businesses such as hers is a relief.

“It’s just huge news, we’re absolutely thrilled that they would pay 75 per cent of payroll,” Robinson said.

On Friday, the federal government announced a new assistance plan. Ottawa will provide subsidies to small and medium-sized businesses to help keep employees on the books through the current crisis.

Last week’s federal emergency assistance plan provided a 10 per-cent wage subsidy to help companies weather these hard economic times.  But today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the subsidy was substantially increased.

“We’re helping companies keep people on the payroll so workers are supported and the economy is positioned to recover from this,” Trudeau said.

“This means people will continue to be paid even though their employer has had to slow down or stop its operations because of COVID-19. We’re helping companies keep people on the payroll so workers are supported and the economy is positioned to recover from this.”

Ottawa’s plan includes a wage subsidy that will pay 75 per cent of a business wage for three months, retroactive to March 15.  And a $40,000 interest free loan, also retroactive to March 15.

The first $10,000 of the loan is forgivable. The value of the total package is $25 billion.  And Ottawa is deferring GST, HST payments, and taxes and duties for imports until June 1.

READ MORE: Prime Minister announces support for small businesses facing impacts of COVID‑19

“The 75 per cent subsidy is a game-changer,” the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce Catherine Holt said this is what businesses need.

“I know a lot of employers have been hanging on, hoping for help that would allow them to keep their employees and I’m assuming this will change that.”

Terri Hustins owns two shops in downtown Victoria, Kaboodles, and Oscar and Libby’s Gift Shop.

“I was thrilled, obviously, as a small business owner to hear that there is going to be more cash for us to access,” Hustins said.   Her stores are full of inventory from a recent buying trip.  The stock arrived after March 16, the day she and her husband closed the businesses.  It was too late to cancel the order and too late to have the orders held. She says the measures announced today will help so her business has a future.  ”

I’m not sure what it’ll look like when we open our doors. But we’re pretty focused and determined to get through this together,” Hustins said.

The federal government said more information about wage subsidies will be released by the end of the month. 

Mary Griffin