Alberta retailers unsure on opening as rules ease

Small business owners welcome February 8 lift on restrictions but wonder if distancing and contact rules will make opening worth it

Western Investor
February 3, 2021

Owner Lynn Kolpak not sure if her Socrates Restaurant would reopen for indoor dining. Kevin Ma
— Owner Lynn Kolpak not sure if her Socrates Restaurant would reopen for indoor dining.| Kevin Ma

Alberta gyms, bars, restaurants and hockey rinks will be able to reopen to customers as early as February 8, but many business owners say they’re not rushing to throw open their doors. 

The province announced a new framework for its COVID-19 health restrictions January 29. Under it gyms, bars, and restaurants could resume in-person service with restrictions provided the province had less than 600 COVID-19 patients in hospital. 

The province was on track to beat that benchmark as of February 1, with 556 people in hospital with COVID-19. 

The framework states that additional restrictions could be lifted once COVID-19 hospitalizations fall below 450, 300 and 150 people, with at least a three-week gap between each change.

Despite the pandemic and a downturn in the provincial economy due to lower oil prices, Alberta has seen increases in retail spending. In November 2020 retail spending hit $7.1 billion, up 7.5 per cent from the same month a year earlier, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.

Sturgeon Valley Athletic Club in St. Albert has had members training exclusively at home since the province ordered all gyms closed in mid-December, said general manager Danielle Smith. About 100 of the club’s 600 members are taking part in the gym’s online classes.

Smith said the club had been able to shift many of its classes online and has even loaned out spin bikes. Still, there is not much in the way of money coming in, and many trainers have been working reduced hours. 

Smith said the club isn’t sure if it will resume in-person one-on-one training February 8, as it would depend on costs and trainer availability. If they do, they have enough space and trainers to host only 10 clients at once under the province’s physical-distancing rules.

“We’re excited by any possibility to have our folks come back and get our personal trainers working,” she said. 

Bars and restaurants would be allowed to resume in-person service under the framework. No entertainment will be allowed. Each table will be limited to at most six people from the same home or one person who lives alone plus their two designated close contacts.

Servers must record the contact information of at least one person per table, keep tables six feet apart, stop serving alcohol by 10 p.m. and stop in-person dining by 11 p.m. 

Lynn Kolpak of Socrates Restaurant in St. Alberta said she was a little shocked the province is reopening indoor dining. Her staffers have been serving take-out only since December 13, and would meet to see if they would resume dine-in service.

“We want to make sure it's safe for us as well as our clientele.” 

Kolpak said it could be tough to get customers to disclose their contact information, noting she has had issues previously with some who refused to wear masks.

Jack’s Burger Shack would not reopen its in-store tables, said owner Tu Le, and would likely keep them closed (as it has since last March) until the province lifts all physical distancing requirements. 

“Our restaurant is just too small,” Le said, and there’s no way for customers to keep six feet apart inside it. 

“I couldn’t even fit four people in there.” 


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