'Don't know how we're going to get through it': Winnipeg bar owners worried amid new COVID-19 restrictions

Metro Winnipeg's new pandemic restrictions, which will force bars to close for at least two weeks as of Monday, could land a death blow to some businesses, owners worry.

Bars, beverage rooms, nightclubs must close for 2 weeks as of Monday in Winnipeg region

Winnipeg-area bars, nightclubs and beverage rooms will have to close for two weeks starting on Monday, in an effort to curb the number of COVID-19 cases. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Metro Winnipeg's new pandemic restrictions, which will force bars to close for at least two weeks, could land a death blow to some businesses, owners worry.

Starting Monday, stand-alone nightclubs, bars and beverage rooms (which are attached to hotels) in Winnipeg and surrounding areas will be closed, as will casinos, video lottery lounges and bingo halls. Entertainment facilities with live entertainment must also close. 

Businesses licensed as restaurants and lounges can stay open, but they'll be limited to 50 per cent capacity and can only seat up to five people at a table.

The closures and restrictions are part of a series of tougher rules announced Friday, as the Winnipeg region battles the worst surge of cases Manitoba has seen since the pandemic began.

Ravi Ramberran, the owner of Four Crowns Hotel and Restaurant on McPhillips Street, says he has to shutter his beverage room and lay off 15 people.

"It's horrible. These people are my best friends. I spend more time with them than I do my family. I have three single mothers working for me. They're struggling driving their kids to school and coming back to work. It's heartbreaking," he said.

"Everyone is losing right now. There's no end in sight for COVID and that's the bottom line."

Ravi Ramberran owns the Four Crowns Hotel and Restaurant. He says he has to lay off 15 people because his beverage room is closing for two weeks. (CBC)

At The King's Head Pub in the Exchange District, owner Chris Graves says he's struggling to imagine a future for his business.

He told CBC News he recently applied for a temporary dining room licence, to allow him to sell alcohol with take-out and delivery orders. Even so, he was told on Friday his business has to close to the public.

"I try to be positive, I really do. I mean, I try not to crack. I don't want my staff to see to see me cracking, but we're in such dire financial hardship right now," Graves said.

"I really, truly don't know how we're going to get through it."

When the metro Winnipeg area moved to orange, or "restricted" level on the province's colour-coded pandemic response system late last month, Graves says his business tapered off and he had to lay off more staff.

"It was a struggle to begin with," he said.

Chris Graves is the owner of the King's Head Pub in Winnipeg's Exchange District. (CBC)

His business will focus on take-out and deliveries, attempting to avoid using food delivery services that take a high percentage of the earnings away from restaurants.

He hopes to keep 20 staff on to do deliveries and work in the kitchen, but 15 will be laid off.

"We're going to go down that road and hopefully we can stay afloat over the next couple weeks and, you know, we can continue to survive."

'A death blow'

The new restrictions will be another storm for small businesses to navigate, says Jonathan Alward, the Prairie director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

"Another set of restrictions could really be a death blow for a lot of small businesses across the province, not just in the Winnipeg metro region," he said.

Even for those that manage to stay open, there's mounting debt, Alward says.

Across Canada, members of the CFIB report they're facing $135,000 in debt related to COVID-19 on average, according to a July report from the federation. In Manitoba, the number is lower, but still significant, at an average of $80,000, Alward said.

"That's additional debt just related to COVID-19. This is aside from any other debt they would have taken on to start their business and get it to where they are now," he said.

"That's probably grown already as businesses have struggled to get back to any semblance of profitability."

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen says it's too early to talk about providing financial assistance to businesses impacted by public health restrictions. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

Asked at a press conference Friday about possible financial aid for businesses affected by public health restrictions,  Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said "it's a little to early to speak to that."

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce disagrees.

"We needed to be talking about this months ago," said Loren Remillard, the business organization's president and CEO.

"We need to have measures in place so we can ensure when we do get through this, we have a business community to return to, we have a restaurant sector, we have viable hotels and an arts and culture community that's still vibrant."

Friesen says the restrictions will be in place for two weeks — covering one COVID-19 incubation period — at this point.

That doesn't sit well with Remillard.

"Two weeks is a lifetime for a business that's holding on on a day-to-day basis."

With files from Aidan Geary, Peggy Lam and Janet Stewart


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