Northern B.C. pub 'busier than ever' after keeping vaccine card requirement, says owner
The owner of a pub in Prince George, B.C., says he has seen business increase after announcing the pub will continue to require proof of vaccination.
Dr. Daryl Leiski, who owns Crossroads Brewing and Distillery and also works as an urgent care physician in the city, says he made the decision after talking to staff about what they wanted to do once the province lifted its mandatory vaccine card program on April 8.
"I think it's important to keep our patrons safe and to come to a place knowing that everybody is vaccinated in that place," Leiski said at the time.
But while Leiski predicted he would see a drop in business, he says the opposite has occurred.
"We've been busier than ever," he told CBC Radio West guest host Brady Strachan.
"I really underestimated the number of people that still wanted to go out [to places] where vaccine cards were in place."
A safe place to dine
Earlier this month, B.C.'s chief public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province has high enough vaccination rates that mandatory health guidelines, such as masking and checking for vaccination status, are no longer necessary in order to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
However, she said individual businesses could set their own health guidelines for staff and customers.
In the weeks since, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations have steadily increased, showing a clear upward trajectory after declining throughout February and March.
Many people more vulnerable to serious illness as a result of COVID-19 infection, including seniors and immunocompromised individuals, have said they feel "left behind" as public health restrictions ease, despite high levels of community transmission of the virus.
Leiski said he has received many grateful messages from people who would like to dine out, but feel safer doing so in an environment where they know people have been vaccinated.
'I don't like to be the outlier'
There has been backlash, too. People from as far away as Texas and Toronto have left negative online reviews for CrossRoads, and a small group of protesters have gathered in vehicles and honked horns to express their displeasure over the vaccine card requirement.
But Leiski says the positive feedback has far outweighed the negative, as customers vote with their wallets in favour of the decision.
He says the vaccine requirement will remain in place until May 2, and he plans to revisit the decision after looking through provincial and national COVID-19 data every week.
"I don't like to be the outlier, and it wasn't an easy decision [for my business]," he said. "But my bigger responsibility is as a physician and a leader in the community."