Calgary business owners excited yet wary as they reopen their doors

On Monday, Calgary joined the rest of the province in allowing salons and barbershops to reopen, while cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars can allow table service at 50 per cent capacity.

On Monday, restaurants, bars and salons in Calgary joined the rest of the province in Phase 1 of reopening

Customers enjoy drinks at Side Street Pub and Grill in Calgary on Monday. Restaurants and bars in the city have reopened for dine-in service. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

It was a sight Calgarians hadn't seen in two months — patrons seated at restaurant booths, being served drinks while chatting with their friends.

"I don't like change, so it's really been hard for me to be isolated, because I'm always out and about," said Sue McBride, who said it felt amazing to sit down and enjoy a coffee at Higher Ground cafe on Monday.

But for many business owners across Calgary, the excitement of reopening has been paired with the stress of ensuring they can keep customers and staff safe.

On Monday, the city joined the rest of the province in Phase 1 of its relaunch, allowing salons and barbershops to reopen, and cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars to allow table service at 50 per cent capacity.

The day before, Ernie Tsu's staff went through what he called a dress rehearsal — going through the motions to ensure servers and bartenders at Trolley 5 Brewery are prepared for the extra sanitization and physical distancing measures they'd have to follow as the bar reopened.

"We're going through a full dry run," said Tsu, who is also one of the board members of the Alberta Hospitality Association. "We've been granted extra sidewalk [for] patio space as well, so we're just getting that all measured out as we speak."

Those businesses were given the green light to reopen on May 14 across the rest of the province but the cities of Calgary and Brooks have reopened at a slower pace due to higher numbers of COVID-19 cases in their regions.

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As of Sunday afternoon, there were still 629 active cases in the Calgary zone out of a total of 801 in Alberta.

Despite the government's OK, some business owners are proceeding with caution.

Bruce Campbell, who owns three Red's Diner locations in Calgary, said it took a month to properly close down his restaurants and said it will now take time to order in food and bring staff up to speed on new safety protocols.

He'll be taking a phased approach, opening one diner in the next few weeks, and then if all goes well, the others. 

"We just want to make sure that we didn't open and find out we had to close again within a few days or a week," he said.

Once the diners reopen, customers will have their temperatures taken and will need to fill out a questionnaire before they dine.

Ernie Tsu, owner of Trolley 5, said the 17th Avenue brewpub will open Monday, with precautions to enforce physical distancing in place. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Other business owners said they felt ready to go for Monday.

Phillip Elliott opened Social Cut and Shave with two metres between each station, personal protective equipment for barbers, and extended hours to accommodate the increased demand for haircuts.

"Ive been doing this for a long long time and I've never been forced to shut down shop. So I'm really excited to get back to it," Elliott said. "I'm a bit nervous going into it but I think all in all it's going to be really good."

Businesses will have to follow a set of health and safety guidelines, and those who break the rules could be subject to closure orders or fines.

Higher Ground coffee shop has been open for takeout since May 14, so John Nicastro said with additional measures like disinfecting and barriers between baristas and customers, they were prepared for dine-in service.

A barista slides a coffee to a customer from behind plexiglass at Higher Ground cafe in Calgary. The coffee shop will be reopening for dine-in service on Monday, as the city eases some restrictions. (Helen Pike/CBC)

"I think the social element of sitting down and catching up with people is really important. It's just nice to have the community, they're an incredible community and they've been waiting for us to reopen," he said.

"We're mindful of the mandates that were put in place, so it is safety first."

Nearby, on Side Street Pub and Grill's patio, Michael Conboy was enjoying the sun.

"The avenue seems to be coming alive a little bit today. Obviously the standards are there, people are keeping their distance, you know they've got the tables laid out accordingly, but it's just nice to see a place open after what we've been through," he said.

Conboy said customers will have to take precautions and realize they'll be in for a different experience than they're used to, but said it's still good to be back.

A sign at Higher Ground cafe requests customers not move tables, which are set up to maintain two metre distances to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Helen Pike/CBC)

For Ron Magnuson, this week's reopening will coincide with his business, which is uniquely suited to physical distancing, opening for the first time.

Sola Salon Studios will see 25 stylists open in their own, separate small studios, a concept that was in the works for months before the pandemic.

"We were, just by nature of our business, we were kind of geared up for one-on-one contact anyway," he said. 

"It's going to be different, it's going to be fine. It is going to take some adjustments."

The province is aiming for a mid-June target for Stage 2 of its relaunch, which would see more businesses and services reopen with additional guidelines in place.

With files from Helen Pike, Andreane Williams and Dave Gilson


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