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Winnipeg pub weighing its options as COVID-19 restrictions continue

King's Head Pub. Randall Paull/Global News

As strict COVID-19 public health orders remain in place across Manitoba, a popular downtown Winnipeg pub is reaching its breaking point.

Chris Graves, owner of King’s Head Pub, said he has been doing his best to survive the coronavirus pandemic, but the province’s third round of shutdowns hit his business harder than the first two.

“At some point, there’s a breaking point,” Graves said. “You cannot operate a business like this.”

On Wednesday, Manitoba announced it would allow small outdoor gatherings beginning this weekend, but the rest of the public health orders will remain in place until at least June 26.

Restaurants and bars can only offer takeout and delivery services.

Read more: Manitoba loosens COVID-19 restrictions to allow small outdoor gatherings

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Graves said he has major payments to make soon and is being forced to consider the future of his business.

“Saturday is going to be a monumental time for us,” Graves said. “Either we realign and I have some serious conversations with some of my financial institutions or we have to close the doors. I’m not necessarily saying we’re going to close the doors permanently but some alignment has to happen for sure.”

Graves isn’t sure of the specifics, but has a meeting scheduled with staff to discuss potential next steps Thursday night.

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Nearly 50 businesses have closed in the city’s core since the pandemic began, according to the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

Kate Fenske, CEO of the BIZ, fears more permanent closures are coming as more businesses go deeper into debt.

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Fenske is calling on the provincial government to provide more financial support.

“The Manitoba bridge grant, the four installments that have been provided have been a lifeline for so many businesses, but the last bridge grant was a month ago.”

On Thursday, the Manitoba government unveiled its summer reopening plan, but it did not say what types of businesses will be permitted to reopen at each stage.

Read more: Manitoba launches COVID-19 reopening plan

Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief provincial public health officer, said those details were intentionally left out to allow for flexibility.

Fenske said she understands the province’s thinking, but business owners need as much information as possible.

“It’s not like they can just flick a switch and start operating again,” Fenske said. “They have to hire back staff, there’s a supply chain to manage.”

Manitoba’s reopening plan is tied to first and second-dose vaccination targets.

The province hopes to begin the first round of reopening by Canada Day when unspecified businesses, services and facilities are expected to open at 25 per cent, provided that 70 per cent of all Manitobans aged 12 and over have received their first shot, and 25 per cent have received their second shot.

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Graves isn’t a fan of that strategy.

“My business now hangs in the balance of people getting vaccinated and also hangs in the balance of the government being able to roll out these vaccinations properly,” Graves said.

Nearly 68 per cent of Manitobans have currently received a first dose.

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