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‘Deflating’: Calgary businesses frustrated at relaunch delay

Last Updated May 14, 2020 at 6:26 pm MST

While local businesses take a significant financial hit, the vast majority in Calgary are following public health guidelines by closing up during the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Tom Ross - 660 NEWS)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — Many Calgary businesses are trying to adjust their plans after the province announced on Wednesday that stage one of the economic relaunch would not take full effect in the city as well as Brooks.

Calgary holds the majority of all COVID-19 cases in Alberta, so officials want to take some more time to try and limit the spread before allowing bars, restaurants, cafes and hair salons to open up for customers again.

Now, these businesses are slated to open no earlier than May 25. In other areas of the province, the businesses can welcome people inside as long as strict guidelines are followed, including limiting capacity.

Even though the province stated that May 14 was a moving target and not a guaranteed reopening date, many businesses had no reason to believe it would be pushed back and had made many preparations.

“We had been paying employees to come in three days prior because we had to start up the equipment again and then you have to prep all the food. And you’re prepping a dining room for a full dining room,” said Joseph Laskowski, vice-president of operations at the Cattle Baron restaurants in Calgary.

He said they had purchased products, which includes expensive foods for the fine-dining establishment and were all ready to go on Thursday.

Staff were having a meeting on Wednesday when they got the news that the province would not allow them to open again as expected.

“Deflating,” said Laskowski.

“It was like shooting an arrow through a balloon. Everyone in the whole room just sunk.”

Due to the fact some pricier items can’t be offered through takeout, Laskowski predicts they are out thousands of dollars between the two locations that were set to open up on Thursday.

This is on top of all the other costs they have continued to cover, such as paying staff and utility bills, throughout the pandemic.

Hair salons had also been making many preparations to reopen, including scheduling customers for haircuts, and this decision has left them scrambling.

“I was dramatically surprised,” said Phillip Elliott, co-owner of Social Cut and Shave on 17th Avenue.

“I just thought it was weird that they waited like 20 hours before businesses would be opened up.”

He said they had been busy over the past couple of weeks trying to book customers back in, and now they have to contact everyone again to cancel and try to find a new date after May 25.

“Trying to book them, cancel them, book them, cancel them. It’s just ridiculous,” he said.

Business owners had also been drafting up the plans on how they can keep employees and customers safe in this situation, and Laskowski said they had created a set of guidelines significantly more nuanced than “vague” suggestions given by the provincial government.

This includes not pouring wine at the table, creating a pivot point where customers will hand food to each other, and limiting how many people can go to the washroom at one time.

“There are some aspects of the industry that are inherently not friendly to COVID,” he said.

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That said, staff were excited to get back to work and welcome people inside again because takeout options only go so far, and they cannot offer all menu items in that type of setting.

Elliott added that they were prepared to go above and beyond provincial suggestions, including having staff wear aprons, face shields and gloves in addition to limiting capacity in the shop.

“A lot of time and energy not only went into scouting that stuff out but actually money too,” he said.

“A lot of us are really roaring to go and we’re willing to put ourselves out there and take the proper precautions to do it. But it’s kind of daunting to see that. You put all that work into it and then it’s just torn from under you like a tablecloth with some wine glasses on top.”

Overall, there is a clear sense of frustration and they would have appreciated a little more notice so that plans could have been changed more easily.

“In my humble opinion,” said Laskowski, “irresponsible and reckless governance.”

“There’s no consideration for the cost and the amount of work it takes going into running a restaurant, which has such low-profit margins as it is. We are on thin ice.”

Laskowski can’t wait to get people back into the restaurant, hopefully on May 25, and assures people that it will be safe for them.

Elliott is in the same boat, and even amid the frustration of having to cancel and rebook customers one more time he wants to try and stay positive.

“It’s going to be safe, it’s going to be comfortable,” he said.

“I love my craft and I know that once we’re able to get going, it’s going to be absolutely wonderful.”