Lethbridge business owners react as Alberta government mandates 2nd COVID-19 shutdown

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WATCH: New restrictions announced by the Alberta government on Tuesday include the mandatory closure of some non-essential businesses. Even with expanded government aid for small and medium operations, some Lethbridge business owners say the time of year is the biggest hit. Danica Ferris reports. – Dec 9, 2020

Lethbridge business owners say just because they have gone through closures before, that doesn’t make this new round of government-mandated shutdowns any easier.

As the Alberta government announced tougher COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday, it included mandatory closures of hair salons, casinos, gyms, and more, as well as limiting restaurants and pubs to takeout and delivery. Retail businesses will also feel a pinch, as capacity has been reduced to just 15 per cent of fire code occupancy.

Read more: Alberta’s new COVID-19 measures ban in-person dining, outdoor gatherings; retail to remain open

The province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw called Tuesday’s restrictions “the most significant” introduced so far this year.

Economic Development Lethbridge CEO Trevor Lewington says the shutdown is especially hard to swallow, given the time of year.

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“[For] most restaurants, retailers, Christmas is typically about 40 per cent of the year’s sales,” he said. “Just slightly less than half of the whole year, you make it or break it in December.”

Salon owner Hailey Scheu says for businesses like hers, December is also usually the busiest month of the year.

“This shutdown is a little bit more harsh than before, just because of the time of year,” she said. “Everybody wants their hair done for Christmas.”

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Scheu says her staff at Shear Persuasion Salon and Spa has long been booked solid into January, but now those customers will have to wait until restrictions are relaxed.

Read more: COVID-19: Will Albertans expect to see effects of health measures before Christmas?

The hospitality industry will also take a massive hit.

Ram Khanal owns three restaurants in the Lethbridge area and employs more than 70 people. That staff will now face the same financial uncertainty that Khanal does.

“They were hoping that they were going to get a paycheck, that they were going to make some tips, they have planned their plans,” Khanal said. “It’s a little disruptive.”

The owner of Telegraph Taphouse, the Water Tower Grill and Bar, and the Picture Butte Hotel and Tavern says that on the bright side, owners have been given a few days notice this time around.

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But while establishments are allowed to remain open for takeout and delivery, Khanal says he doesn’t believe that’s a viable revenue source for his restaurants.

He will, however, be looking into expanded aid announced for businesses on Tuesday.

“That will be very handy for us to pay the bills on time, and things like that, which is very good,” he said.

“This closing came with a lot of help on the side, so I’m thinking it’s not as bad as when we closed in March, when we had no clue what it was going to look like. So we should be okay.”

Read more: Albertans should prepare for ‘much different’ holiday season as COVID-19 cases spike: Hinshaw

The province has expanded and increased the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant, with a new lower threshold and upped grant amount, meaning as many as 15,000 more businesses may be eligible for funding.

A release from the province on Tuesday said there’s a total of $20,000 in potential funding available for each business, up from the original $5,000.

Lewington says that while this is a step in the right direction, for some businesses it might not be enough.

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“The challenge I think is that you know, although $20,000 is certainly helpful, if your payroll and your rent — you know many facilities, their rent is larger than that total grant,” he said. “It’s not going to make much of a dent. So the challenge is making sure that businesses are tapping into every available program.”

Lewington says that now, more than ever, it’s crucial to support local businesses; whether that be with purchases or by interacting with them on social media.

The new mandatory restrictions are in effect province-wide, and will be in place until at least Jan. 12, 2021.

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