Some local businesses struggle, others thrive

·4 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has been rough for many local businesses, with some entrepreneurs contemplating whether they can get through 2021.

For others, it’s been a different story: Sales remained stable, or even grew.

Businesses negatively affected include hair salons and personal services which were shuttered in mid-December.

The order forcing the closures of these businesses lifted a few days ahead of the planned review Jan. 21, and personal services were allowed to re-open Monday.

Callie Balderston, Beaverlodge and District Chamber of Commerce president, welcomed the Alberta government’s decision last week to reverse the closures.

“Hopefully that is a telltale for what’s to come - more and more businesses can get up and running,” Balderston said.

While hardware and grocery stores have been busy, restaurants have taken a hit and the government disallowed in-person dining in mid-December.

Anna’s Pizza in Beaverlodge had closed its dining area long before, focusing on takeout since last March, said co-owner Wael Ammar.

Ammar said Anna’s is doing the best it can. The closure of the diner, which could hold up to 50 people, caused “disturbance to the business.”

“We had busy lunches we were depending on, which now we don’t have,” he said.

Keeping dine-in service wasn’t financially viable, and Ammar said he didn’t want to risk exposing employees or customers to the virus.

Currently, Anna’s has two full-time and one-part-time staff members; usually there are three and four respectively, Ammar said.

He said he doesn’t oppose current restrictions because he supports their purpose.

“They’re tough, but I think they’re necessary in order to get past this pandemic,” Ammar said.

In comparison, Robyn Young, co-owner of Sexsmith’s Hippy Strings, said the business catering to knitters and crocheters is faring as well as it typically would at this time of year.

“We’re lucky enough to have products people are using right now - they’re stuck at home and this gives them something to do,” Young said.

Yarn, needles and kits have been popular items during the pandemic, she said.

Customers are still able to come into the store without an appointment, but the restrictions have meant a limit of six at a time, she said.

She said it was unlikely before the pandemic that Hippy Strings would have more than six customers at a time anyway.

Young said Hippy Strings doesn’t have any issue with current restrictions, and even during the lockdown last spring the store could rely on its online offerings and deliveries.

The store actually saw its business pick up during the lockdown, as she said January and February are slow months for Hippy Strings.

Others stuck at home have turned their attention to renovations - something Del Wiebe, Beaverlodge Home Building Centre store manager, said has helped business.

“People have been doing more work at home, and being insde those four walls, they’re seeing things they want to do,” Wiebe said.

The most popular product is paint. Decking, fencing and roofing supplies have also been strong sellers, he said

Traffic into the store doubled starting in April and continuing though the summer, Wiebe said.

The store is also large enough that staff haven’t needed to enforce the 15 per cent capacity limit, he added.

In January business has dropped a little but there’s been “a steady stream of walk-in,” he said.

He believes locals have begun to contemplate the lengthy nature of the pandemic and whether they have the budget for more renos.

Beaverlodge’s cannabis store Level 420 is on the “right” side of the pandemic as her sales have increased, said owner Dawn Jolin.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in business,” Jolin said.

During the lockdown last spring sales didn’t increase dramatically, but as the pandemic wore on, Jolin said people began “looking for other things to pass the time”

Space restrictions haven’t been a consideraton since the capacity limit has never been exceeded.

“The mask mandate is kind of a pain because it’s hard to hear what people are saying,” she said.

Last spring the Alberta government designated cannabis retail as an essential service.

“As an independent businessowner, if we had not been considered essential, I probably would have lost my business,” Jolin said.

She said the supports changes to restrictions to see hair salons and personal services re-open, more to benefit neighbouring businesses than Level 420.

Liquor stores were also declared essential last spring and Robyn Wadsworth, manager of Sexsmith’s What Ales You, said business is good.

Wadsworth said she can’t be certain why the business is performing well but speculated the pandemic may be a factor.

“Everybody is staying home and the only thing they have to do is drink,” she said.

The restrictions have had little impact on What Ales You, but the limited capacity of five customers at a time has meant there have been more lineups outside the door, she said.

Lineups happen about once a week at most, Wadsworth said.

That said, it was rare to have more than five customers in the store at a time before the pandemic, and the reduced capacity hasn’t been a problem, she said.

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News