Local entrepreneurs are continuing to adjust to COVID restrictions, but some are worried currently shuttered businesses may not re-open, said Jennifer Caseley, Sexsmith and District Chamber of Commerce president.
Though students returned to schools Monday, other lockdown-like restrictions introduced in early December have been extended for at least another week.
“The biggest thing the (extension) has done is deflate the mindset of some business owners, and some were very hopeful they would be able to re-open,” Caseley said.
“Some were talking about how they had appointments booked, and suddenly that’s not happening.”
Callie Balderston, Beaverlodge and District Chamber of Commerce president, said every week businesses remain closed has a financial impact.
“Our local businesses have adapted and are resilient, and I hope the businesses that are shut down are able to open, because their livelihoods depend on it,” Balderston said.
Premier Jason Kenney said during a COVID update last week the restrictions, which the government planned to review for possible lifting Jan. 12, will remain in place at least until Jan. 21.
Kenney said the Alberta government chose to extend the measures due to high case numbers and hospitalizations.
Caseley said it was good the government gave a one-week notice of the extension, so businesses could prepare for continued restrictions.
The restrictions introduced in early December included mandatory masks in indoor public spaces and bans on outdoor and indoor gatherings.
Wedding ceremonies and funeral services were capped at 10 people and faith services were limited to 15 per cent capacity.
Restaurants, bars and cafes will be closed for in-person service, with takeout and delivery still permitted. Personal services such as hair and nail salons were forced to close.
A mandatory work-from-home order remains in place and retail is limited to 15 per cent capacity.
Recreation centres, pools, community halls, libraries and museums were closed, and indoor group fitness activities remain banned.
Caseley said many Sexsmith businesses aren’t struggling with the restrictions due to preparations, having dealt with COVID for nearly a year and having a better idea of how to cope. That said, no one is happy about the restrictions, she noted.
Personal services such as hair salons and nail home businesses have been hit hard by closures, she said.
Some one-on-one business owners argue they can clean and sanitize between clients but have to close, while large businesses in Grande Prairie are “packed,” she said.
“It’s really hard for personal services businesses to see that, when they know they can provide a more sanitary environment,” Caseley said.
Balderston shared similar sentiments in Beaverlodge.
“It’s difficult to understand why corporate stores are able to open and we can go in line with lots of people, but the more one-on-one services aren’t able to open,” she said.
“It’s very frustrating.”
Linsy Riendeau, owner of Beaverlodge’s Elle Hair Design, said her business has been closed since Dec. 13 and it’s discouraging having one of the town’s few businesses affected this way.
“It has a huge financial impact on us,” Riendeau said.
“When you’re a small business owner, the loss of revenue means you pay yourself less.”
Riendeau questioned the fairness of the closures, saying she would prefer continuing with masks and frequent cleanings.
“I don’t think getting your hair cut is any more dangerous than going to the grocery store,” she said.
However, Riendeau said she’s not worried her business won’t survive 2021, citing strong community support.
She is concerned about being “bombarded” with clients when the doors can open. She said the four staff will be alternating to keep the business open extra hours to accommodate the demand.
Some Sexsmith entrepreneurs have expressed concern about whether they’ll be able to re-open, Caseley said.
Caseley said she’s heard from two who’ve said they have used up the available program support and are concerned about whether they’ll have the capital to start up again.
“We’re trying to support our small businesses in Beaverlodge, and as a chamber we have reached out to our businesses and told them what programs are available from the government, such as wage subsidies,” Balderston said.
“In some instances, it just isn’t enough.”
Sexsmith restaurants have been adjusting to the lack on in-person dining, and some primarily did takeout anyway, Caseley said.
Balderston added she’s observed how Beaverlodge businesses have adapted, including restaurants with curbside and takeout services.
For small retail, the 15 per cent capacity has limited some businesses to very few at a time, making it difficult for families to shop together, Caseley said.
At press time the County of Grande Prairie has 44 active COVID-19 cases, including 16 in the west county and 28 in the east and central portions, while the city has 157.
Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News