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Banff’s economy ‘devastated,’ mayor says, but community rallying together

The streets of tourist town Banff are very quiet March 26, 2020.
The streets of tourist town Banff are very quiet March 26, 2020. Jayme Doll, Global News

Everyday at 1 p.m., Banff’s Heather Jean Jordan rings the church bells, breaking the eerie silence now blanketing the normally bustling community.

“I was like, ‘I’m going to ring the bells. The town is so quiet. And now so many people have reached out. They talk about crying or feeling happy — that’s pretty powerful. It’s a small thing I can do,” the Banff musician said.

The tourist town is now void of most tourists. Locals wait outside the post office to collect their mail one by one. Business owners with “closed” signs in their windows stand idly by, nobody quite sure what’s going to happen next.

“We are kind of at the mercy of what our town and our government and our community can do for us,” said Cassidy Geddes, owner of Beatnik Salon.

There has been a mass exodus of workers. Thousands have been laid off and many have left town by the bus loads.

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“A lot of people are worried about having enough staff if it picks up really quickly. It’s kind of bad in both scenarios,” said Geddes, adding many are now worried about paying rent on both their businesses and apartments.

READ MORE: COVID-19 impacts Tourism Calgary, 60 per cent of staff to be temporarily laid off

Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said hotels are running at about three to five per cent occupancy and at least 5,000 people have been laid off.

“Our town’s economy has been devastated,” said Sorensen, adding the main focus now is pulling together and helping the local population as much as possible.

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Some businesses, like pet supply store The Banff Dog House, are opening their doors to locals, much to the relief of many who call the mountain town home.

“We have a child with special needs and is immune compromised so it’s really great that we don’t have to worry about the crowds, or leave town to get food for our pets,” resident Brook Wilson said.

“The scariest thing is we don’t know where we go from here,” store owner Ward Betke said.

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The store has already survived the devastating Mount Royal fire. Regardless of their own uncertainty, the Banff Ave business owners are determined to reach out as best they can.

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“People are struggling right now. My wife came up with the slogan ‘Paw it forward.’ If anyone is struggling, reach out and we’ll do the best we can,” Betke said.

With the visitors gone, locals are pulling together. There are stories of flower shops giving away their blooms. Now that the food bank is closed, the community has rallied together to make sure everyone has what they need.

“It brings me to tears at least once a day,” said Sorensen, tears welling up in her eyes as she spoke about looking out at the desolated streets of her town.

“But then, you know, you see some elk wandering through town. The community is so quiet, the wildlife has figured out it’s OK to be closer than normal,” Sorensen laughed.

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“But we are just a small Alberta town with a very tight community and a lot of people don’t get to see that,” the mayor said.