Local businesses reflect on the past year

·3 min read

Businesses across the county have felt the impact of the pandemic, restrictions have hit some harder than others, and for a time many wish to be over, they are looking for a glimmer of hope.

In Beaverlodge, business owner Amanda Oling felt the sting of the restrictions firsthand.

Oling is the owner of Absolute Entertainment and Northern Spirit Productions that provides PA systems to weddings, DJ services, dance floors, and a variety of other entertainment services.

She is also a motivational speaker and impaired driving prevention speaker. Despite a broad spectrum of services offered, Oling experienced a raft of cancellations in the past year.

“When everything got shut down last March, 50 per cent of those weddings were postponed to 2021, and 50 per cent outright cancelled,” she said. “Essentially, we saw 50 per cent of our revenue disappear right after the first announcement happened.”

She said the next few hours were filled with upset and panicked customers, phone calls and emails from her clients as they scrambled with what to do next.

With some restrictions being removed last summer, Oling said five weddings ended up going ahead out of the 60 initially planned.

It was a tough start to her new venture. Oling bought Absolute Entertainment just about a year prior to the first lockdown. Almost immediately, she began to upgrade and buy more equipment as she began to book more clients.

Oling once had a staff of 10; post pandemic, she has one.

Federal pandemic grants and other supports weren’t much help for the business, as Oling said she didn’t qualify for many being a new start-up with not very much revenue in 2019.

Like many businesses, Oling began shifting her work online, but that also came with additional expenses. Living in the country, her internet service was not reliable enough to host and be part of online meetings.

She then would incur the added expense of an office in Beaverlodge to have a more reliable internet connection at her speaking engagements.

Not all suffered such significant loss.

Robyn Wadsworth, manager at What Ales You in Sexsmith, said, “I think things have gone kind of up and down, just depending on how the restrictions and stuff are.”

Golden Guns and Tackle owner Kris Heba said COVID impacted several factors that hit his Beaverlodge business, including tourism. Heba said outfitters no longer brought hunters and anglers to the region. He said he also believes that non-COVID impacts -- such as the May 1 OIC amendment of the Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms to prohibit certain firearms such as the AR-15 -- have caused a decline in sales.

Golden Guns and What Ales You were fortunate enough to maintain exisiting staffing levels.

As the province announced a reopening plan for the summer, Oling asks, “are things actually going to open up, you know, what are the hospitalization numbers going to be what are the COVID numbers going to be?”

Heba remains hesitant as announcements of fewer restrictions are projected. For them, “it all depends on what's going happen in October with the election, and everything else.”

The days after the province’s announcement of reopening for the summer DATE, Oling's phone sat silent.

She said, “I expected people would be wanting to book for the summer, but I think they're feeling the same way as me, we've been here before, and it didn't happen.”

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News