St. Albert business owners are cautiously optimistic about the province's summer reopening plan, which moves into Stage 2 today.
The Alberta government's plan, announced May 26, lifts health restrictions in three stages based on vaccination thresholds and hospitalizations. For some local businesses, the reopening plan feels too fast. For others, the plan can't come fast enough.
Alena Brown, owner of Eye Candy, a lash studio on Perron Street, is happy things will be opening up again, but said she would have liked to see an extra two weeks of closure to feel more confident.
“Personally, I feel like the relaunch plan seems … too fast. Just because three weeks ago we had over 2,000 cases. It would be so awesome to be fully open by the end of July … I think a lot of other small business owners are struggling with this. It’s like, are we going to have to close again?” she said.
“The transition is really the hardest part. And shifting that mindset. OK, now I'm at home, or like now I have to do this to shift in the mindset back to being at work. So, once I'm in it, it's great, but I personally struggle mentally with that transition,” said Brown.
She is worried she won’t get as many clients as she got before the pandemic.
“I think all luxury services probably have that fear that we won't be as busy as we were. We've really seen a decline,” she said.
Brown said she used to be able to budget for the entire year, but now it’s like throwing dice. The pandemic has forced her to change the way she does business in response to the re-occurring shutdowns and reopenings of the last year.
She brought in a retail line of clothing, something she would have never considered prior to the pandemic. She also launched a strip and magnetic lash line with a business partner in Nova Scotia.
“I knew that clients missed lashes ... But I didn't realize how much they were missing lashes," she said.
To help with the last round of shutdowns, the government announced they have extended the intake for the spring small and medium enterprise relaunch grant until June 30.
The grant is available for Alberta businesses, co-operatives, and non-profits that have fewer than 500 employees, and have experienced revenue losses of at least 30 per cent because of public-health restrictions or closures due to COVID-19.
Eligible organizations will receive a payment of up to $10,000.
“I honestly, probably wouldn't have a business if there was no business grants. So, it's a need, not really a want,” said Brown.
Amitha Samarkoon, co-owner of The Hot Grill, a St. Albert restaurant that opened last July, said the opening and closing has been really tough on his business. He has not been able to qualify for any of the relaunch grants.
Samarkoon is looking forward to the summer months and he is expecting people will be out enjoying the weather. He also has plans to include more outdoor seating.
“Actually, we are going to put extra tables on the patio because we're not sure how it's going to be because it's not clear,” he said of the reopening plan.
Emily Soriano, group fitness instructor and owner of Pacific Island Dance Troupe, has taken her dance classes outdoors in response to the pandemic.
She currently teaches one class a week in St. Albert by donation to the food bank. The class will continue to run at Lions Park until she can start teaching in a studio or at the seniors' centre again, something she is hoping to do, soon.
She has not applied for any of the grants because for most of the pandemic she had a job outside of the fitness industry.
“I'm just happy that now it's going, hopefully, going back to normal. So we're increasing the number of people who we can help outdoors and crossing our fingers that gyms will be open soon,” said Soriano.
The pandemic has changed the dynamics of the service industry, for sure, said Tim Wilson, the director of operations for Browns Social House in Edmonton and St. Albert.
Wilson said they have added a temporary patio space to their St. Albert location to generate more revenue for the restaurant. While the patio helps, it isn’t a game-changer.
They haven’t made any big summer plans just yet, mostly because no one knows what the summer will look like. Wilson does have his concerns with the province's reopening plan.
“I just I find it a little strange just how it all came so quickly. To go from a complete lockdown to open patios to indoor dining, and with the potential of, within a month, having all the restrictions lifted seems a little quick considering how long the last year-and-a-half has sort of been stretched out, right?"