COVID-19: Some business owners feeling left out of Saskatchewan’s reopening ‘roadmap’

Click to play video: 'Some small business owners feel left out of re-open plan' Some small business owners feel left out of re-open plan
Global News spoke to a number of small business owners, including of a buffet and dance studio, about why they feel like the light at the end of the tunnel is still faint – May 8, 2021

While the announcements of both new vaccination timelines and a three-phase plan to reopen the economy brought a sense of optimism to Saskatchewan this week, some small business owners in the province say their spirits feel unchanged.

“It’s very concerning that there’s no plan. There’s no plan for the buffet industry and I mean, that was our bread and butter before this,” said Justin Linder, who owns the Rotisserie in Regina.

“We didn’t have any takeout. We didn’t have any options besides the buffet.”

Read more: COVID-19: Saskatchewan lays out ‘roadmap’ in reopening from pandemic

Linder has pivoted to provide takeout, but with a large part of his 6,000-square-foot restaurant built for buffets, he says keeping his business afloat continues to be a struggle.

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With controlled line-ups, PPE, and the sneeze guards already in place, Justin Linder thinks a plan could easily be made to allow for safe operation of buffets. File / Global News

“All that was announced was that it’s certain you cannot have a buffet,” Linder said, adding he thinks his buffet could be safely operated with physical distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), sneeze guards and sanitization.

“If you set up a plan, we can make it work. This has been going on for over a year now and you’re telling me you can’t figure out a way by now to cover every industry. You chose everybody to lock down. You need to get a plan so everybody can come back. To just say, ‘We’ll look at it in Phase 3 when the time comes’, what kind of plan is that?

“For us, reopening will take weeks and weeks of planning.”

Read more: COVID-19: In-person dining in Regina restaurants will resume May 17

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Linder said he’s also concerned that if buffets continue to be left out of re-opening plans, it may be tough to attract customers back even when they are finally given the green light.

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind, that is this industry ever going to recover to what it is. But I do get a lot of calls with people asking me ‘is the buffet back'”.

Juliany Qureshi, owner of Salsa Colada, has pivoted to stream dance lessons online and has developed a plan for distanced in-person classes. But she says she is having trouble recahing the 8-person limit currently placed on such activities. Connor O'Donovan / Global News

Salsa Colada dance studio owner Juliany Qureshi shares some of Linder’s concerns, though both stressed the fact that they don’t want to jeopardize anyone’s safety by reopening too soon.

Participation in fitness activities like her dance classes is currently limited by public health order to eight participants with a minimum of three metres of distancing between each person.

Again, the newly announced reopening plan makes no explicit mention of allowing such activities to operate normally before Phase 3 in which “most remaining restrictions will be lifted”.

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But even as things are right now, Qureshi said she’s having trouble finding enough participants to meet that 8-person limit.

“I’ve gone from 35 children in my classes to 11 children, and from 60-70 adult ladies to less than 24. And we have allowed classes of up to 8, but those classes are not full. For us, it’s not even about opening up Saskatchewan, it’s about how people are feeling right now. They’re not ready to get back to activities that are allowed,” she said.

“It’s pretty much in the hands of either the public or the government, for small businesses. The government needs to make us feel safe, and the people to actually feel safe. But a lot of people feel paralyzed.”

Click to play video: 'Sask. professor calls for holistic approach to reopen plan' Sask. professor calls for holistic approach to reopen plan
Sask. professor calls for holistic approach to reopen plan – May 5, 2021

Quereshi said that for the past year, her business has been struggling to pay the bills and is “barely staying afloat.”

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She said that at this point, she’s looking at September as the earliest point at which her business could return to some kind of normalcy.

“At this point it’s about staying active in the community, staying visible in the community so that when everything goes back to normal, as normal as things are going to get to, people will remember us,” she said.

“And when things open up, people are going to be looking for ways to enhance their mental health. That’s what we’ll be here for – to provide them with fun, laughter and an environment that is going to be safe and welcoming. And I hope people do turn to small businesses that have struggled throughout the pandemic.”

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