Sask. business owners prepare for financial brunt of Friday's new COVID-19 restrictions

·4 min read

The K Family Kitchen has served Regina residents for nearly 40 years, but further COVID-19 restrictions may force it to shut down for the second time in 2020.

The provincial government introduced a flurry of new public health restrictions Wednesday, including rules for restaurants and licensed establishments.

As of 12:01 a.m. Friday, restaurants and bars can seat only four people at a table, tables must be two metres apart with a barrier or three metres apart without, and all guest and reservation information must be kept.

"They're going to affect every restaurant about the same. People are just scared to go out," said Ernie Kouros, owner of the K Family Kitchen.

"It doesn't matter what restrictions they're going to put on people. People just aren't travelling out to restaurants at all."

Many potential customers are instead opting for delivery, said Kouros, which creates issues for the K Family Kitchen — a strictly eat-in establishment.

Adrian Cheung/CBC
Adrian Cheung/CBC

"We're just wondering how many hours we're actually going to be feasibly able to operate nowadays," he said.

The restaurant typically runs from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., but the operating hours could drop to six or eight hours per day, said Kouros, adding that another closure isn't out of the question.

The K Family Kitchen shut down for 93 days when COVID-19 first hit Saskatchewan and is still recovering from the financial hit, he said.

Restaurants and bars are not the only businesses feeling squeezed. Fitness activities and fitness group classes can only have eight participants at a time, with at least three metres of distance between each person. Masks must be worn at all times.

Ryde YXE Cycle Studio in Saskatoon decided to close its facility from Nov. 27 until at least Jan. 2, 2021, due to the new restrictions and rising COVID-19 numbers.

While Peak Climb + HIIT Studio, also in Saskatoon, is trying to stay open — though owner MacKenzie Firus is unsure for how long.

Shutterstock
Shutterstock

"I think I speak on behalf of all small fitness studios: we are frustrated because we aren't seeing that [COVID-19] transmission and we're not seeing the data that's being presented," said Firus.

"We want to keep everyone safe. But it is frustrating when we feel like our facilities are being safe and then the restrictions keep piling on."

Pre-pandemic, Firus' studio could fit from 12 to 18 people, depending on the class. The new restrictions cap class sizes to six to eight people, she said.

Peak Climb + HIIT Studio opened on Feb. 27, so Firus is currently ineligible to receive federal assistance because she has no records proving loss of revenue. She may resort to applying for another loan, but for now Firus is relying on income from her day job as a teacher to support her.

Although financial support is needed for the industry, Firus says being able to consult with the province on an operational plan revolving around new COVID-19 restrictions would be beneficial.

The provincial government also announced further rules for gaming and performance venues, indoor public event gatherings, places of worship, malls and large retail stores, and sports, fitness and dance.

Sask. government contradicting itself?

Tom McIntosh, University of Regina politics and international studies professor, believes the province is sending mixed signals with the restrictions announced Wednesday.

"[The new measures] are driven by this idea that the health of the population and the health of the economy are two separate things, and they're not. In my view, they're very deeply linked," said McIntosh.

"We're getting these messages: we have to support local businesses, so you should go shopping at local businesses… but you should also stay home and not have too many contacts."

Meanwhile, members of the business community felt the province tip-toed the line well by avoiding a lockdown.

"There are some [businesses] that'll have to close because the limitations are going to be too tight. But generally speaking, this keeps the bulk of the business community able to operate," said Steve McLellan, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, adding that restaurants and recreational facilities will be hit harder.

The organization is lobbying the Saskatchewan government to bring back provincial funding for businesses, McLellan added.

In the meantime, eligible businesses will have to rely on federal assistance programs. Others, however, will have to decide whether to "voluntarily close and forego the supports... or stay open and keep bleeding financially," said Jason Aebig, CEO of the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce.

With regards to the debate between the economy and public health, Aebig notes that employment and income stability, as well as financial security, play a key role in people's health and the province cannot lose sight of that.

Both McLellan and Aebig urge Saskatchewan residents to follow the public health measures, and said that will keep them safe and allow the restrictions on the economy to loosen.