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Alberta small business weary with latest restrictions

“ I hate to use the word abusive, but it just seems to be an abuse of small business," says pub owner Ken Shebib.
Diane Chong, owner of Studio 107, ‘shocked and angry.' Claudia Steele /St. Albert Gazette

Alberta’s latest hard-ball restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 started May 4 and continued past the May long weekend, a move one small business owners says is “abuse.”

These include new restrictions on outdoor social gatherings, schools, retail, restaurants, places of worship, personal and wellness services, outdoor sports and fitness, funerals, and post-secondary institutions.

The measures apply to all Albertans, businesses, organizations and service providers in municipalities or areas with more than 50 cases per 100,000 people and with 30 or more active cases.

Retail services must limit customer capacity to 10 per cent of fire code occupancy or a minimum of five customers. Shopping malls have a 10 per cent capacity.

Non-compliance is subject to $2,000 fines.

“This is a last resort and a necessary step. If this doesn’t work, then we’ll need a much longer list of restrictions, which no Albertan wants to see. The best way to get out of this is for all Albertans to follow these new measures and get vaccinated when it’s their turn,” Premier Jason Kenney said in announcing the new rules on May 4.

Now, nearly four weeks, later, many business owners say they had done all that they can and have had enough.

Diane Chong, owner of Studio 107 in St. Albert, said she and her staff have always followed the restrictions, including shutting their doors when told. But Chong said she is both angry and shocked by the government's decision to shut down salons once again.

"We are being beyond cautious. We are the safest. Everything is documented. Every single person who walks in the door has been put in the computer and has a schedule. We're not in people's mouths. We're not like a dentist or doctor. We are safe because you can wear a mask. We can be in full PPE and be safe," Chong said.

She said she is increasingly frustrated by salon closures when those who aren't listening to health restrictions continue to do whatever they want with no real repercussions.

Ken Shebib, who owns Paddy's Pub & Kitchen, just spent $8,000 on a patio area only to be shut down anyway. Shebib shared Chong's frustration.

"It just seems redundant, and I hate to use the word abusive, but it just seems to be an abuse of small business," Shebib said.

Although Paddy's is still open for takeout and delivery, Shebib said it is down about 40 per cent from the last wave.

"Pickup and delivery is still ongoing, but very, very slow this time around. Of course, it seems that everything they decide to do works against small businesses because pickup and delivery was working Okay in the cold, but it's a little different now when people are camping and they don't seem to be ordering as much," he said.

These restrictions haven't just hurt him but also his wait staff, who he has had to lay off every time – a trickle-down effect no employer wants.

Some businesses seem to be faring better than others. Nonetheless, there are elements of struggle.

Wellness Within owner Michael Riske said it has been an interesting time of pivoting working for the short term. He is thankful he has been able to access government assistance, but he said it hasn't been without stress.

Chong, Shebib, and Riske all said they agree with the importance of having restrictions, protecting the community, and lowering case numbers. How this gets done is where their thoughts differ. There is a desire among many business owners for solid data showing evidence of how many COVID-19 cases have come from small businesses.

All three business owners said they are confident they will make it through this, but that continued waves and restrictions will play an essential role in their outcomes.