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Some southern Alberta small businesses frustrated with extended COVID-19 restrictions

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WATCH: The province's decision to extend COVID-19 restrictions to at least Jan. 21., is yet another blow to many small businesses. Taz Dhaliwal has more on how business owners in southern Alberta are reacting – Jan 8, 2021

With emotions running high over current COVID-19 restrictions being extended until at least Jan. 21., one hair salon owner in Medicine Hat started an online petition asking the Alberta government to allow the beauty industry to get back to work.

“We were told by Mr. [Jason] Kenney in December that our industry had zero cases of COVID transmission and I think there’s a reason for that,” said Paul Hemsing, owner of Salon Purity.

Hemsing says those in the personal service industry have always practised proper sanitization procedures, even before the pandemic.

Read more: Alberta COVID-19 restrictions remain in place until Jan. 21 as students head back to class Monday

He adds another source of great stress for those working in the industry is the financial burden they’re having to bear as their professional income is put on an indefinite hold.

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Although the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch grant is available for small businesses, and offers up to $20,000, it doesn’t help everyone.

“The other fear I have is that many people in our industry are self-employed,” Hemsing explained.

“So, they rent a room or rent a chair within a business, those people didn’t qualify for that [grant] and because they’re self-employed, they also don’t qualify for employment insurance,” he said.

In a post on the page of the online petition, Hemsting says assistance from the government is “negligible compared to normal revenues,” the ongoing costs of rent and utility bills, along with personal expenses, are not always sufficiently covered by grants and CERB.

“Thousands of middle-class, hard-working beauty professionals in Alberta have lost their ability to provide an income for their families,” he goes on to say in the post.

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Hemsting calls the closures “unjust,” not only because of the lost income, but also because of the stress and uncertainty of the situation they find themselves in.

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“We are passionate individuals who take pride in our work. It is a cause of mental health strain. We are used to being productive and making people smile.”

Hemsting continues on to say it is frustrating having to close while watching many other businesses remain profitable, whereas personal service businesses are forced to “sit stagnant.”

“Our businesses are essential. We have training in sanitation and viral and bacterial control, employees at retail stores do not, yet we are the ones closed,” he says.

Along with the petition, the salon owner held a peaceful protest in Medicine Hat Friday afternoon to bring more awareness to the cause.

Read more: COVID-19: 2 Lethbridge businesses state intent to reopen on social media despite public health order

In Lethbridge, one gym owner says he’s considering reopening early, despite the extended restrictions, but says he still needs to discuss what legal ramifications could look like with his legal counsel.

“Massage therapy and physiotherapy can operate, but personal trainers can’t see clients. It seems a little counterintuitive,” said Justin Tavernini, the owner of the O2 Training Centre.

“They seem to be picking on certain industries more than others, so it’s frustrating that way because I feel safe, all my clients feel safe,” he added.

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Tavernini says it stings to see big box stores remain open, yet personal services can’t.

“You know everyone’s so respectful to small business right now because they don’t want to see us closed for any longer… It’s easier to manage than a mall, a Costco or a Walmart.”

Taverini even took to social media to lay out his frustrations with the ongoing restrictions.

“Just because we are a gym doesn’t mean we are dirty. We are a private, locally owned facility with some of the highest standards in the industry,” he said in a post on Facebook earlier in the week.

“We only purchase the highest quality equipment…we use hospital grade cleaner to disinfect the floors and equipment multiple times per day,” the post goes on to read.

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Taverini also says staff at his gym know and screen their members before entry, which he says is something not all box or retail stores seem to have the capacity to do.

“Since we are a private facility, we are able to get to know all of our members on a personal level, which means everyone in our facility is like family,” the post reads.

Any business owner breaking the restrictions could face a fine of up to $100,000 for a first offence.

When asked why the province isn’t taking a regional approach, and allowing businesses in areas with fewer cases to reopen, Alberta Health cited a high positivity rate across the province, adding it is trying to prevent transmission of the virus across regions.