Calgary

Business owners steel themselves for impact of Alberta's new COVID-19 restrictions

Business owners and their employees across Calgary are digesting the impacts of Alberta's widespread new COVID-19 restrictions, aimed to bend the curve on the province's steadily growing case numbers.

Some wish province had taken action sooner to avoid holiday shutdown

A customer orders a coffee at Kaffeeklatsch on First Street S.W. in Calgary. Businesses around the city are bracing for the impacts of Alberta's new restrictions slow the spread of COVID-19. (CBC)

Business owners and employees across Calgary are digesting the impacts of Alberta's widespread new COVID-19 restrictions, aimed to bend the curve on the province's steadily growing case numbers.

As of Sunday, restaurants, pubs and bars will close to in-person service, while entertainment and recreation facilities from movie theatres to gyms, personal and wellness services like spas and hair salons will close entirely. The restrictions will be in place until at least Jan. 12.

Ernie Tsu, a board member with the Alberta Hospitality Association and owner of Trolley 5 pub, said the measures are a hard hit to restaurants and bars right before the holidays. 

"It's going to be very tough for us to have to look at our staff, as we have to lay off coming around the corner here. Christmas is usually the best season for every restaurant and local pub," Tsu said. 

The association said in a release that while the organization acknowledge's the government's effort to provide several days advance notice "for the industry to pivot yet again," a definitive end to current measures and a proper timeline for a return to normal is needed. 

The provincial government said to support struggling businesses, it would expand its small and medium business relaunch grant, to make up to 15,000 more businesses eligible for funding. Businesses can now receive 15 per cent of pre-pandemic monthly revenues up to a maximum of $15,000. 

Additional business supports are available through the federal government, like Canada's emergency wage subsidy program — that's been used more by Albertans than any other province.

Many businesses may fall through the cracks

Tsu said the grant likely won't be enough to stop many businesses from closing.

"It's going to be a tough pill to swallow as we turn the corner. You're going to see, even with the subsidy that's come out, you're going to see a lot of businesses that were barely hanging on. They're going to be closing," Tsu said. 

That's the situation senior hair stylist Sarah Mychajliv at Fuze Salon finds herself in — she said her business is too small for government subsidies to help.

"We're all chair renters. So we're all a small business working within a small business. We just seem to fall through the cracks throughout it all," she said. 

Stylist Sarah Mychajliv at Fuze Salon said she's frustrated salons like hers will have to close, when they have been taking strict precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Normally, she would make 25 per cent of her yearly revenue in December.

"It's the small businesses that are taking the biggest precautions and it's the small businesses that are being targeted. It's not fair that we should have to shut down, but Costco and Walmart are allowed to stay open," she said. 

'Death by a thousand cuts'

The new measures come one month after hundreds of health-care workers had called for a short, sharp lockdown to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Instead, at the time the province reduced retail to 25 per cent capacity and banned larger gatherings — measures Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has since acknowledged were not sufficient.

Now, Alberta has more than 20,000 active cases, the most in the country. 

David Stewart, owner of Swish Salon, said the situation is frustrating.  

"This should have happened earlier so we could have locked down for three weeks, for four weeks even, in September but instead it's just been piecemeal … it's like death by a thousand cuts."

Laurie Fuhr is a barista at Kaffeklatsch — she earns minimum wage. She said as she heads into the holidays, she's trying to budget and will rely on government supports if it comes down to it. 

"I'm trying to be positive about it. I don't want anybody else to get sick and die from this disease or lose loved ones," she said. 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city is still assessing the impacts of the restrictions, but layoffs are expected. 

With files from Tahirih Foroozan, Julie Debeljak, Elissa Carpenter and Alberta at Noon

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