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Business future uncertain in Canmore due to COVID-19 pandemic

Canmore businesses struggle through COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH: As officials in Canmore remind out-of-town visitors to stay away, local businesses that rely on tourism are struggling to survive. Blake Lough reports.

With shuttered stores lining the streets of downtown Canmore, locals say they have never seen the area so empty.

The question around town: how many businesses will survive the COVID-19 pandemic?

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 71% of Alberta’s total cases are in Calgary zone; another death brings fatalities to 51

Canmore Mayor John Borrowman said many establishments have closed, noting that there is major pain in the sector.

“Our business community has responded really, really well to this challenge. It’s not easy,” Borrowman said.

“I worry about how many small businesses, and businesses of all sizes, are maybe not going to get through this… All of our communities will be changed after this and we don’t know what it’s going to look like in six months or a year, whenever we come out the other end. I continue to be very optimistic that we will get through this.”

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READ MORE: Locals worried as people still head to Rocky Mountains despite COVID-19 pandemic

In a business needs survey of more than 200 Canmore businesses conducted at the end of March, 11 per cent said they are unable to manage current expenses, 20 per cent said they can only last a month and 28 per cent said they can survive for three months.

The business needs survey conducted at the end of March by the Town of Canmore.
The business needs survey conducted at the end of March by the Town of Canmore. Courtesy: Town of Canmore

Eleanor Miclette, Canmore’s economic development manager​, said Alberta is in a unique situation: energy and tourism industries have been hit hard.

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“Generally, businesses, if they’re not serving customers like retail or tourism operators, can weather this differently. They can change their operating model,” she said.

“That’s maybe not an option for many businesses in the Bow Valley.”

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Miclette said there is 85 per cent unemployment in Banff, which relies predominately on tourism. Canmore is a little more diversified, she said, adding that its unemployment rate is not far behind Banff, between 50 and 60 per cent.

The mountain town of Canmore, Alta., is seen on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016.
The mountain town of Canmore, Alta., is seen on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Though Miclette sees optimism from the business community — like how some companies switched online, established creative operating models and started making hand sanitizer — she worries that some might not recover.

“If we look at Economic Developers Alberta’s disaster recovery work through the 2013 floods and Fort McMurray fires [in 2016], their statistics tell you that of all the businesses that have to close down as a result of pandemic or disaster, one in four will not reopen,” she said.
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“So if we look at what that means in the Bow Valley, in Banff and in Canmore, the sheer number of businesses that cannot open or serve customers right now, I’m a little bit worried about what that will mean and how that will change our business environment moving forward.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Town of Canmore declares state of local emergency

Karina Birch, the CEO of Rocky Mountain Soap Co., said when the pandemic hit, her business closed all 13 retail locations, laid off 120 people and lost 80 per cent of its revenue.

Since then, it has seen a boost in online orders, Birch said, adding that instead of shipping big orders to stores, the company is fulfilling lots of small orders to individuals. It is also offering free delivery to Canmore residents.

“I expect we’re going to see some big changes,” she said.

“I think it will be hard for people to come out of this and be in a strong position. I think it’s just going to matter how long it’s going to be, how quickly things are going to rebound. It’s going to rely on how creative businesses are.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta distilleries make hand sanitizer amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Birch explained that the soap company started producing hand sanitizer. She said Health Canada quickly approved it but it has been difficult getting the materials due to supply chain issues and keeping up with demand.

– With files from Global News’ Blake Lough