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St. Albert pub owners swallow a bitter pill

Designed to slow down the spread of COVID-19, the recent provincial measures are drawing a degree of bafflement, frustration and in some cases resignation from bar owners across the city. Many believe the industry is being unfairly singled out.

The news of a government-mandated curfew was tough for restaurant and bar owners in St. Albert to hear last week as the province announced new restrictions to help manage rising caseloads of COVID-19.

Owners such as Troy Marchak of the Crown and Tower Pub have spent a great deal of money getting their businesses up to code and matching safety guidelines.

“The whole COVID thing has been a big financial hit,” said Marchak. His establishment lost 30 per cent of its business since the spring lockdown. 

“We seem to be busy during Happy Hour. The curfew affects us a little bit, but it’s not drastic,” Marchak added. 

The two-week curfew, which was announced Nov. 12 and came into effect the following day, states establishments serving food and liquor must announce last call by 10 p.m. and close their doors by 11 p.m. Casinos are an exception. Although the last call is 10 p.m., gambling continues until 3 a.m. 

“If the government wants to cut down COVID, the rules should apply to everyone. I don’t understand the different rules. We just do what we’re told. Honestly, it’s been very confusing since day one,” said Marchak. 

Designed to slow down the spread of COVID-19, the measures are drawing a degree of bafflement, frustration and in some cases resignation from bar owners across the city. Many believe the industry is being unfairly singled out. 

Cindy Moll, manager at LB’s Pub said, “You look at Walmart. People go shopping there and it’s very crowded. The bigger you are, the longer you are allowed to be open. You have less restrictions than a family business. It’s very unfair. We pay taxes too.”  

Moll said LB’s lost close to 75 per cent of its sales. Long known as a major live music venue, it gained a respected reputation throughout the region. 

“We used to have a very large after-work crowd. People are now very conscious of COVID and where they go. People are staying in cohorts. The general public is very responsible, but it is affecting us,” Moll said. 

Weekends were always money-makers as the bar stayed open until 2 a.m. However, the latest measures have an impact on people’s livelihoods as staff hours are scaled back.  

“We had to cut back. Everyone has reduced hours. It has trickled down throughout the whole building. We used to have three or four staff on. Now we only have one. My heart aches for the people who can’t seem to get ahead.” 

To offset the loss of evening hours, the bar has opted to open earlier in the day for lunch. 

“When only 20 per cent of your clients come in, it’s very hard for regulars to know you’ve changed your hours. And in the morning, most people are working. We’re certainly not making as much revenue in the first hours of the day as we would in the last four hours.”  

John Nelia, the general manager of Dicey Reilly's, took over the position at the traditional Irish pub three weeks ago. As the newest pub in town, Dicey Reilly's opened Sept. 25, and Nelia describes this recent venture as “a trial by fire.” 

“We don’t get a lot of people midweek. But the weekend has affected us. People are wary and they are happy to leave at that time (10 p.m.),” Nelia said. 

In agreement with Marchak and Moll, Nelia believes all establishments should close at the same time. 

“If the rules aren’t the same for everybody, if everything doesn’t shut down at the same time, it defeats the purpose of a curfew.” 

He also noted AGLC safety compliance teams are making rounds to enforce measures if necessary. 

“I don’t mind if they come to our place, they’re going to other places. They’re just doing their job and we have to respect that. I can foresee if people don’t stick to the rules, dining can be curtailed. I wouldn’t have a problem with that. We need to reassess.” 

“At the end of the day, we want to get to a better level with the pandemic. If we can shut down for two weeks and make the numbers better, so be it. Nobody wants this to limp along. We need to look after the community.”

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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