Calgary businesses feel the pinch of subdued Stampede celebrations

Every year, the Calgary Stampede draws in visitors from around the province and around the world to spend money in Calgary’s shops, restaurants and hotels. Not this year.

Bookings and foot traffic are down on what should be the busiest time of the year

Wendy Irvine runs The Unicorn on Stephan Avenue. She hopes people will still come out and enjoy the festivities — safely — during Stampede time. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

The Unicorn on Stephen Avenue is open for business. The Stampede decorations are up, the hay bales are out.

Operations manager Wendy Irvine is hoping the customers will also be back.

"We can still party like it's Stampede, unfortunately without the rodeo," she said. "We're just asking for people to just come on down, whether it's downtown or around the city. Support all your businesses and, you know, be mindful and be safe."

Every year, the Calgary Stampede draws visitors from around the province and around the world to spend money in Calgary's shops, restaurants and hotels. Not this year.

Irvine says the Stampede typically draws in crowds, corporate bookings and other significant revenue boosts to the Unicorn. But Irvine estimates bookings are down about 80 per cent, compare with this time of year. 

With Stampede events cancelled this year, Irvine is just one of many business owners who is expecting to take some significant revenue hits. The revelry that Calgary normally sees in July — the eating, the drinking, the purchasing of souvenirs, cowboy boots and paraphernalia — is subdued.

But Irvine says she remains hopeful that customer numbers will keep building in the days ahead.

"When I came in to work this morning, it was a ghost town. Normally the CTrain would be packed, like wall-to-wall, from seven o'clock in the morning," she said. "I came downtown around 10 and the train was empty."

Stephen Avenue is quiet on what is normally one of the busiest days of the year — parade day and the official start of the annual Calgary Stampede. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Irvine is thankful for the support she has had, both government support and customer support.

"Surviving the past five years and the recession, we were very lucky to survive that, and rise from that … it's a little better than we thought, we are surviving. But still, it's very hard every day, trying to stay positive, trying to keep your customers positive, and feel safe to come back in the building and know that they'll be OK."

Irvine says that her business is working hard to make the location feel COVID-safe for customers.

Down the street, Kanata Trading Post owner Nizar Mohamed says his gift shop earns a significant portion of its annual revenue during the Stampede, especially from tourists.

"As long as we get support, we'll keep on going," he said. "I love Calgary, and I would hate to close down. I love this store."

As local businesses work through pandemic-related relaunch plans, he's hoping Albertans will continue to follow COVID-19 safety measures but also take some time to visit shops, restaurants and other businesses in the days ahead.

With files from Dave Gilson