Saskatchewan

With no active COVID-19 cases, south Sask. business owners optimistic

All 15 cases that were previously confirmed in south Saskatchewan are now considered recovered.

Province says 15 cases in total have been confirmed in the region, and all 15 are considered recovered

Black Bridge Brewery in Swift Current has canned its first batch of hand sanitizer refills, which are available for sale at the local Canadian Tire. (Facebook)

In the south Saskatchewan region, where there are no active cases, local businesses are looking forward to the day they can welcome customers with "doors wide open" but know for now, the steps are smaller than that. 

Fifteen cases in total have been confirmed in the region, which does not include Regina and area, but the province says all have since recovered. 

But that doesn't necessarily mean local business owners are pushing to return to normal quickly.

"I think what we're doing is smart. Everyone wants to rush it, especially with it getting it nice out, and it feels like we've all been stuck inside for long enough. But obviously, what we've been doing is working," said Kari Stenson, an owner at Swift Current's Black Bridge Brewery.

Stenson says she's keeping a "cautiously optimistic" eye on how things go with the province's first phase of re-opening, beginning May 5.

Black Bridge Brewery owner Kari Stenson says the Swift Current brewery is slowly hiring staff back, and they're making and canning hand sanitizer. (Eric Anderson/CBC )

Production pivot for Swift Current brewer

The brewery has closed its tap room and laid off the majority of its staff in the meantime. And with restaurants largely shuttered, it's not getting as many major orders as they'd normally count on. But production and distribution has still been underway, and she says the company is slowly starting to re-hire staff as their sales increase. 

Stenson says they've been able to shift to making and distributing hand sanitizer, which is in high demand with Saskatchewan's re-opening phase getting underway. They're sealing it in cans and it's available for sale at the local Canadian Tire. 

"I know in some of the smaller towns it's impossible to get it," Stenson said. "As soon as the Saskatchewan government announced what could open, we started to get phone calls."
Thirty-four cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Saskatchewan on Monday, the largest single-day increase in cases since it was first detected in the province. (CBC)

Also in Swift Current, Corinne Rutt owns 40 Winks Sleep Shop. She's looking forward to being able to re-open in a couple of weeks. 

"We closed on the 20th of March and we've been closed since. So there's been a little bit of phone orders, but pretty slow." she said. "I think it's good. It's about time we get back to work. I think that we need to go back to work. The economy is not good. And the small businesses are the ones that seem to be hurt.." 

She's not sure whether to expect a quiet or busy shop once she's able to re-open, but she's heartened to hear that the local greenhouse and grocery stores have been busy.

Weyburn Furniture store weighs next steps

Brent Stephanson is the owner of Weimer's Hometown, a furniture and appliance store in Weyburn. 

"I know we're very fortunate with what's happening in our area, but it's due diligence," he said. "One person comes down, and it's similar to what happened up in northern Saskatchewan. You know, one case can turn into 40 cases overnight. So you have to be so careful." 

He says with many businesses closed and people staying at home, most of his sales have been in appliances. That's because shopping for furniture or a new mattress can be individual and based on touch and feel for many people. So he's ordered waterproof twin mattress protectors so that when shoppers can return to the store, they can place that on the couch or chair or mattress they're considering so the person can sit down or lay on it to try it out.
Brent Stephanson owns Weimer's Hometown store in Weyburn. He says it's closed to walk-in traffic because he's listening to health officials' instructions. (Facebook)

"The biggest thing I guess is the unknown with this darn thing. I know are sales have definitely been affected by this because it's so tough to just open your doors wide open — that's just not possible right now.' he said. 

But he says he doesn't wish the province had loosened up its restrictions for his business sooner. 

"I guess I'm not really worked up about it because I think we're pretty safe here. But in the same breath, we've got grandkids. And this is important for me to make sure that we keep that that rate down low of infections," Stephanson said, adding that he would hate to see Saskatchewan health workers overloaded from COVID-19 cases. 

For now, he's planning for a cautious re-opening during Saskatchewan's second phase. 

Thriving take-out business for Estevan restaurant group

Peter Sereggela owns Tower Restaurant, Taphouse and Eleven24 Social House in Estevan. He says his businesses were able to shift quickly to a take-out operation and 20 staff members are still working. Sereggela says he's also been able to work on some renovations while the tables and barstools sit empty. 

"The income is not the same that it used to be. But at the same time we have huge support down here, from our locals," he said. "There's a few businesses who are locally-owned that have been around for many, many years who get great local support. And so we're quite fortunate. But again, still looking forward to the opportunity of opening our doors 100 per cent."

Sereggela says he's glad to leave the timing of that decision up to the province, but he'll be ready to open up when that happens.
Restaurants in Estevan are feeling the effects of a struggling economy

He says it's a credit to the Estevan community and surrounding area that people have taken restrictions seriously, and he's proud that local case numbers have stayed relatively low during the pandemic. Meanwhile, his staff have already shifted to wearing gloves to bring customers their curbside orders, and he's put up plexiglass to divide them from customers in areas where they might interact.

They've also removed the most popular seats at the bar. 

"A lot of the regulars were used to coming in and just going right up to the counter at the bar and being served. But because the bartender's going to have to be protected and everything else, those seats have already been taken away." Seregella said.

"So yeah, we'll take whatever precautions we need to take just to make sure that not only our staff, but the patrons are safe."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tory Gillis

Journalist

Tory Gillis began work as a journalist with CBC Saskatchewan in 2012. You can hear her deliver the afternoon news on weekdays on CBC Radio One in Saskatchewan. She has also worked as a reporter, and as an associate producer on CBC Saskatchewan's radio shows, The Morning Edition, Bluesky and The Afternoon Edition.

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