After weeks of restrictions that forced restaurants and local businesses to close their doors, at least a small semblance of normal life has returned to Okotoks, Alta.
On Thursday, some businesses and restaurants in the community south of Calgary began reopening as part of the first phase of the Alberta government’s provincial relaunch strategy.
“People are stressed, they want some degree of normalcy,” said Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson. “It’s good to see we’re getting back to normal in this first phase.”
Robertson said he believes Okotoks has been coping fairly well with the COVID-19 pandemic, and that traffic through the downtown area had noticeably picked up on Thursday.
According to Robertson, the reopening in Okotoks will follow the majority of the guidelines set by the province in its relaunch strategy.
However, playground and outdoor fitness equipment will remain closed due to cleaning protocols that can’t be met under the current circumstances.
“I think some people want it the way it was six months ago — they want it tomorrow — and of course that’s just not possible,” Robertson said.
“Certainly we depend on our residents for some degree of understanding and empathy as to what everyone is going through.”
At the local Canadian Brewhouse, staff began to serve customers in person on their patio after only offering take out and delivery options during the pandemic.
The restaurant and bar is operating at just 30 per cent capacity, and staff are wearing gloves and masks while using social distancing measures to seat tables inside and on the patio.
“We’re excited. We’re pumped up. We can’t wait to have people back in our building and have that energy and have that fun that we’re so used to having here,” Okotoks Canadian Brewhouse general manager Sunny Johal said.
Some have already proven they are willing to travel to take part in that sense of normalcy, even if it’s only short-lived.
Andrew Ewert and some friends made the trek from their home in south Calgary to enjoy a drink on the patio.
“I didn’t think I’d be getting out this early in the year yet, but it’s nice to be out here enjoying the weather and socializing for once,” Ewert said.
The first phase of the provincial relaunch has been delayed in Calgary, with restaurants, bars, hairstylists and barbershops forced to wait until May 25 to reopen.
Although there aren’t any rules against it, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he doesn’t want to see people travelling into the city’s bedroom communities just yet.
“We’re not going to put up gates on the highways, but I am asking people to be kind to those communities,” Nenshi said.
“Don’t overwhelm them.”
However, Robertson said he isn’t concerned with Calgarians making their way south. Instead, he is focused on a smooth relaunch in his community and for the many businesses that haven’t been able to reopen their doors.
“Certainly we have numerous restaurants and so on within Okotoks, but not all of them are necessarily going to reopen right today,” Robertson said. “Hopefully, if we do our part, we can all get through this together.”