Wednesday's provincially-mandated program to tackle the pandemic has left some St. Albert small businesses predictably disheartened and confused. Others see the restrictions as a positive outcome, but remain frustrated by a lack of details.
Curtis Crouse, chair of the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that 77 per cent of chambers throughout the province support Premier Jason Kenney’s vaccination passport program, known as the restriction exemption program.
“What is challenging are the ever-changing rules,” said Crouse. “I don’t like the way [Kenney's] downloading everything onto the businesses. It shouldn’t be up to us to police who comes to our business. I don’t like to criticize the government, but small business is doing what the province fails to do.”
Crouse was referring to new restrictions that will compel patrons to show proof of vaccination to enter non-essential businesses, such as select stores, restaurants, bars, concerts, theatres, and libraries starting Sept. 20.
Businesses can choose to withdraw from the program, but are required to operate at a reduced capacity with masks and social distancing in place. For instance, restaurants who do not wish to participate in the program are only allowed to offer outdoor dining with a limit of six people per table.
Brittany Allen, co-owner of Confections Cake Company on Perron Street, has closely followed government recommendations and, and described the set of regulations as “disappointing.”
“It’s a constant fight to stay in. It’s frustrating. It’s the same stuff, just a different day,” said Allen, who has been forced to endure fewer patrons and lower sales during COVID-19.
The pastry chef lamented how the government only gave businesses four days to roll out new measures. Additionally, she was frustrated by the lack of precision on the Alberta Health Services website and time spent attempting to clarify information.
“The rules are confusing. What it said on the website is very confusing. I called a health inspector to get more information, and they were just as confused.”
The lack of clarity is also Alena Brown’s biggest challenge. She has operated Eye Candy Lash Extensions for eight years and witnessed a moving target of regulations.
“There was a lot of information to absorb, but I felt it was very unclear, especially for personal services. I want to know what our role is,” said Brown, whose business on Perron Street has maintained strict health and safety protocols throughout the pandemic.
“My issue is the logistics behind it. I have no idea how my clients stand with vaccinations, and whether it is something that will stay. I have a lot of questions. I’m not in a rush to join [the exemption program]. I’m waiting to see if there is more guidance from above.”
Olivia Hrehorchuk, manager at MD Distilleries on Circle Drive, instead views the program in a more positive light. MD Distilleries opened in March 2020, three days before the initial province-wide shutdown.
“I don’t think too many of us were surprised more restrictions were going into effect, especially since we’re moving into the fall. This will allow us to operate in a positive way. It’s better than shutting down,” said Hrehorchuk.
The distillery also operates as a restaurant. Starting next week, masked guests will enter the building and immediately walk into a retail space where they can purchase alcohol. Anyone wishing to access the dining area will be required to wait until a server checks their vaccination status.
As with other business owners, Hrehorchuk has concerns about individuals who refuse to comply with government-designated restrictions.
“From what I’ve seen, the non-vaccinated are very vocal and some have said they will boycott us because of this. It’s not nice to see that kind of feedback. We’re just following government regulations. At the same time, we’re getting a lot of positive feedback from people who are pro-vaccinations.”
Although there may be blowback from some customers, Hrehorchuk has no second thoughts about requesting guests produce their current vaccination status.
“We as a company respect people’s individual decisions. We don’t want to tell people to get vaccinated. But if asking for vaccination information comes as part of being safe, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Additional businesses are posting their plans on social media. Tryst Wine and Small Plates posted on Instagram requiring guests to provide proof of vaccination for all indoor dining.
"To help us make this process as smooth as possible, we ask that you have your proof at the ready when you check in with our hostess. Unvaccinated guests may sit on our patio at this time, but we strongly urge all who are able to get vaccinated as soon as possible."
Landmark Cinemas also posted on social media, stating their employees follow strict health and safety protocols. Landmark added, "We ask guests to please arrive well in advance of their show time and to come ready to present their government-issued ID and provincial app and/or government-issued printout."
St. Albert Bowling and Rec Centre took to Facebook announcing it will recognize the government's restriction exemption program. The post read: "We encourage all of our customers 12 years and older to be prepared to show proof of vaccination, or a negative rapid test result, upon entrance to our bowling centre. A single dose of the vaccine is acceptable until Oct. 25 as long as the dose was administered two weeks prior."
On its Facebook page, Heaven Essence Day Spa stated it reached out to Alberta Health Services after the government announcement. The spa received a reply stating that "a vaccine is not a requirement for personal services. We do encourage our clients to be vaccinated, but at this time, we will not be asking for proof of a vaccine ... We will continue to stay well under our one-third occupancy limit. We will be taking temperatures at the door ... During services where clients need to remove masks, our staff will be wearing a level three surgical mask and eye protection."