People in the food service industry in the Slocan Valley, Arrow Lakes and North Kootenay Lake region say the rollout of the new public health rules for their businesses is going smoother than expected.
“We’re still busy, and people are respecting the rules,” said Jill Cann of Hoss and Jill’s Bistro in Nakusp. “Everybody has been super.”
The Valley Voice contacted a dozen businesses in communities across the readership area to find out how new public health orders, that took effect on Monday, September 13, are working. The health regulations require individuals to have proof of vaccination against COVID-19 before entering some businesses – like private gyms, restaurants, and casinos -- or when taking part in many public events. In the Valley Voice area, vaccine passports mostly affect local bars, hotel and golf course restaurants, and coffee shops with indoor seating.
Café’s with no set menu, and no in-house seating, are exempt from the new regulations.
Overall, people in the food industry say customers are adhering to the passport rules being enforced, if somewhat reluctantly, by restaurant owners, managers and workers.
While some businesses were reluctant to talk on the record, citing ongoing community tensions about the pandemic and health regulations, all reported few problems in the first days of the mandate.
“I think it’s gone better than expected,” said Carolyn Thomson of the Treehouse Restaurant in Kaslo. “I was very worried leading up to the start– it was quite stressful – and we’ve had the odd run-in. But overall people have been pretty okay with it all.
“I think having a sign outside either turns people away if they want nothing to do with showing us their vaccine proof, or if they walk in, they don’t feel angry about it.”
“We were a little worried, but it has worked out good,” says Jody Riley, head waitress at JB’s Pub and Restaurant in Woodbury, just north of Ainsworth. “One group came in, and when we said they can’t come in without passports, they left. Simple as that.”
“We had one couple from out of town pull up and say they wanted snacks,” recounts one Slocan Valley food manager. “I said they need a passport to eat here, but they were welcome to take-out.
“They stomped out, got in their truck and tore off. I don’t know what they were looking for.”
Only one establishment reported real problems, mostly from out-of-province tourists.
“It’s been two days, and a decent amount of people have treated me like I’m the one choosing to do this,” said one bar manager. “There’s a good mix of people who are good with it, people who are against it… and then there’s the ones that treat it like it’s our idea.”
There’s a fair amount of resentment that it’s been left to individual business to enforce health orders.
“I think it’s ridiculous that we have to be the police for the government rules. It’s not fair,” says Trisha Albertine of What’s Brewing in Nakusp. “I can’t be here all day every day while we’re open. And I worry to leave my staff here. We’ve already had people be asses about face coverings and masks. And it’s ‘look, it’s not our fault. I don’t agree with it but if I don’t follow the rules, I get fined.’”
“My concern is for my staff, their safety,” she added, noting they were buying video surveillance equipment to protect staff. “I told them if they get someone who’s belligerent, serve them and get them out. I told my staff not to confront people.
“I pity the fool who shows disrespect towards my staff.”
“I never aspired to be a policeman,” another café owner told the Valley Voice, a sentiment echoed by other business owners.
Most of those contacted said business had remained steady, or they had suffered the usual end-of-summer slowdown. But some said there was some impact on their bottom line.
“It has absolutely cost us business,” said one bar owner, who said it means the loss of many of their regular customers, whom they depend on in a small town. “It has definitely been a little slower.”
“I’ve seen some people come up to the door, see our sign and shake their heads and walked away,” said the Treehouse’s Thomson in Kaslo. “We’re definitely losing some business because of it, but we’re still busy. So I guess it’s okay now, but as we get into the slow season, it won’t be.”
Some restaurants have gone to take-out only so as not to deal with the issue at all.
“We were disappointed that New Denver had such a low vaccine rate, and we got a little bit nervous about having to be the face of the policy that we support,” said Jamie Bennett at the Ledge Bistro at the Slocan Lake Golf Course. “So we just decided we’d shut down regular indoor service, and move to window and take-away service.”
He said it didn’t take long for some locals to try to skirt the regulations.
“They’re not complaining, but they’re asking me to potentially bend the rules,” he says. “Let’s just say they asked me if I was going to enforce it. I heard others in town weren’t, but I do want to support it. Closing the dining room was my solution.”
Bennett said they would probably run to mid-October with regular service in normal circumstances, but have shut down the restaurant to all but take-out immediately.
The Kaslo Hotel also announced it was going to offer take-out service only “[i]n order to not discriminate against any of our customers.”
A staffperson said it was only an interim decision that would be reviewed periodically, and as soon as this week.
The technology remains an issue as well.
One manager said they had no terminal for scanning the QR code on the passport. If they weren’t closing for the season in the next week or so, it would have been a problem.
“We’re a rural area, many people are making minimum wage,” she said. “Download an app? A quarter of our employees don’t even have a phone.”
Meanwhile, some local Chambers of Commerce have expressed concerns about the passport system.
“We are deeply concerned over the recent announcement by the Provincial government regarding the implementation of a vaccine verification at businesses, public venues and events,” the Kaslo Chamber wrote to its members, noting it was not consulted with by the provincial Chamber before it endorsed the government plan. “The new PHO will greatly impact business owners, employers and organizations as well as our entire community.”
The Slocan Valley Chamber, in a letter to the Province, said it stands “firmly on the side of the law” but the burden of supporting the vaccine passport program will drive some local businesses into the ground.
“Unease about privacy, the division of our community and staffing are among our members’ concerns,” it said, and called on the Province to provide more testing and vaccine clinics in the area, better communication, and compensation for businesses who have to carry out the mandate.
The Province’s Restaurant and Food Services Association is cautioning food service providers to obey the rules. President and CEO of the BCRFA Ian Tostenson told Black Press it supports the vaccine card system and wants members to follow the public health orders so they can keep their doors open.
“It’s not going to end well,” he said of those businesses that don’t follow the rules. “They will be eventually closed or fined. Your reputation as a business that defied protocols, I’m not so sure that reputation long-term is going to serve you well.”
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice