Cautious optimism: the feeling many Alberta businesses are experiencing as they breathe yet another sign of relief when looking ahead at their third reopening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — one they hope will be the last.
Premier Jason Kenney presented a three-stage plan for reopening the province by the summertime, which includes lifting nearly all of the province’s COVID-19 public health measures by mid-July.
The reopening will move in stages, the first two dependent on vaccinations and hospital numbers, with the third being contingent only on the number of people who have gotten their shot.
In Stage 1, outdoor dining can once again resume on patios, retail businesses will have capacity increased to 15 per cent, and personal wellness services can open on an appointment-only basis.
Restaurants can reopen to indoor dining under Stage 2, and gyms and fitness centres can also welcome clients again, with physical distancing. Personal wellness services will be able to bring back walk-in services.
Once the province moves into Stage 3, “almost all the health restrictions will be gone,” Kenney said, including the mandatory mask order, and restrictions on gatherings.
Ben Leon, co-founder and managing director of The Dandy Brewing Company in Calgary, said considering the steps those in the hospitality industry have already taken, it’s a good time to start the process of reopening.
“I think we’re pretty cautiously optimistic that we’re sort of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and things are going to start feeling a little more normal soon,” he said.
“Obviously, when you’ve done this three times, you know, it’s like there’s that initial sort of like joy and relief that you’ll start getting that revenue back to normal and bring back staff.
“But there’s still definitely a bit of hesitation there that COVID is still around.”
Leon said he was “really pumped” to call their small staff and tell them they’re needed back at work.
“It’s been really rough. I think as an owner, especially of a small business, we’re so close with staff. I think that the hardest part was constantly having to… cut hours, lay off staff and with the uncertainty,” he said.
Esme Beauty Boutique owner Angela O’Donoghue said she was “very thrilled” to hear she could start booking appointments again, and the phone has already been ringing off the hook.
“To be honest, I’m actually shocked that we’re opening this quickly, I thought it was going to be another couple of weeks,” she told Global News.
She’s feeling hopeful this will be the last time personal wellness services are closed because of the number of people who have received vaccinations, and she believes people are being more cautious.
“I’m feeling relieved, happy, I know my staff are really excited to just be open and working again,” she said, adding she employs a lot of single moms, who have had a tough time with all of the closures.
“We’re ready to roll. We’re going to open our doors on Monday and just move forward.”
Martin Venneri, owner and trainer at F45 Marda Loop and F45 Legacy fitness studios, said he’s also feeling “cautiously optimistic” and “definitely relieved” to hear he can reopen his fitness facilities.
“It’s been 14 months of this and out of the 14 months, we’ve been completely closed for eight months. And of the other additional six months, we were heavily restricted,” he said.
“So definitely cautiously optimistic, but definitely some some renewed optimism.”
He said it feels like now Alberta is “getting back to some sense of normalcy,” and hopes businesses will “not only get open, but remain open.”
“We’ve been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride,” he said. “And hopefully this is the last time that we’re on that downspout and we can all just remain open.”
The province announced Wednesday it was also extending the application period for companies hoping to take advantage of the grant for small- and medium-sized businesses.
“Extending the application intake enables organizations subsequently affected by the May 2021 health orders to apply for this additional COVID relief funding,” the province said, adding the $350-million budget hasn’t changed.
Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer thanked the affected businesses for their sacrifices to keep Alberta communities safe and do their part to help bring the province’s case counts down.
“Your efforts have made a difference, and we know we will soon be able to begin to lift restrictions and allow businesses to operate at full capacity,” he said.
“As more Albertans are vaccinated, I am hopeful that this is the last time we need to extend the SMERG program.”
Businesses, co-operatives and non-profit organizations can apply for the money and receive up to $10,000 to help them recoup costs that came as a result of COVID-19 health restrictions.
For Leon, the extension on top of the reopening announcement is “great news.”
“I think any time the government is listening and looking out for the small business guys and how they can make it better for us after the year we’ve had, is so appreciated,” he said.
— With files from Matthew Conrod, Global News