Stuck between a rock and a hard place.
That’s how many local businesses are describing their situation after the Alberta government announced it was removing the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP) last week.
The move didn’t come without concerns from many small businesses who say they were not consulted and didn’t have time to prepare for the change.
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce was particularly critical, saying the immediate removal of the province’s pandemic measures ignores the importance of consumer confidence in the province’s economic recovery.
The unintended consequences
Chamber president and CEO Deborah Yedlin says that while policies must adapt to the changing context, tools such as the (REP) and masking “remain critical to ensuring people feel comfortable dining at restaurants, attending sporting and entertainment events” and going to work.
“While the time will come for pandemic measures to sunset, the removal of REP is akin to ripping the Band-aid off before the wound has healed,” she said of the move.
She believes many businesses will have to make their own critical decisions.
“Lifting these restrictions will likely lead to several unintended consequences. Businesses that rely on discretionary spending may see a decline in revenue as consumers choose to stay home and minimize the potential for exposure,” she says, adding that industries and public services that rely on front-line employees are already facing severe labour shortages.
“Jeopardizing the comfort and safety of staff is likely to exacerbate these challenges. Schools may see an increase in infection rates, sending children and teachers home and disrupting work patterns and productivity for many parents.”
Prairie Dog Brewing will “support customers and employees”
While Prairie Dog Brewing owner Laura Coles is happy that friendships and community have a chance to be built in her pub again, she says the microbrewery will support customers and employees in the choices they make about their health.
“We will always support any of our team members that choose to remain masked.”
Adding that staff have had their struggles with the restrictions and customers throughout the last two years.
“Our front-of-house staff have been through enough that we’re most likely not going to keep restrictions as they’re lifted,” she says. “Because there’s a lot of people that are tired and angry after two years of the pandemic, and service workers are an easy face to yell at.”
However, Coles says that their dining area is large and spaced out, and the barriers will remain in place for some time moving forward.
Coles says that regardless of a staff member’s comfort level, they’ll make accommodations to make sure the staff feel confident in their safety.
“There’s a couple of team members that are not as comfortable serving tables at the moment,” she says. “So, we are putting them into other positions, finding other jobs where they’re not going to have that direct contact if possible like it’s just supporting our team.”
The Ship and Anchor takes a stand
The popular Ship and Anchor Pub on 17th Ave. SW had to temporarily turn off the option to comment on their social media posts last week following “intolerant and hateful exchanges” after stating they would “hit pause on removing the REP” while they consulted with staff and patrons.
That unleashed a flurry of one-star reviews and messages against their business for their stance.
Since then, the Ship released a statement clarifying its position and saying they would remove the REP on Mar. 1 if the “COVID situation doesn’t get any worse” before that date.
“While we believe that transitioning to an endemic response is the next reasonable step in managing COVID, we want to proceed cautiously, both to lessen the risk of triggering further restrictions or shutdowns and (to) allow time for our patrons and staff to adjust to changing risk levels.”
The Ship and Anchor updated its Facebook page to say commenting had been turned off “for the time being,” as the announcement had led to “some intolerant and hateful exchanges.”
Other businesses facing much of the same
Some other Calgary restaurants have also chosen to leave the REP in place for now, including Winebar Kensington and Kaffeeklatsch, both of which are being targeted with negative Google reviews in response.
Kaffeeklatsch owner Jessica Mccarrel says her coffee shop will keep the program “for as long as (her) staff feels appropriate.”
“Since I announced that Kaffeeklatsch is keeping the REP, we have received an enormous amount of support and love from our community,” she says.
“But we have also received a lot of abuse, with many issuing threats, flooding social media with belligerent and spiteful comments, in addition to leaving one-star reviews, all because we chose to keep protections.”
One such review from Jeff said: “Dreadful place with miserable atmosphere and an incredibly discriminatory owner.”
Chamber says businesses need time to adjust
The Chamber of Commerce points to the latest data gathered from wastewater tracking by UCalgary showing that the viral load is declining at a slower rate compared with how quickly it rose.
Yedlin says the changes were sudden and many businesses needed to take the time to adjust as the provincial decision was made “against a backdrop of tools such as rapid testing and contact tracing no longer being available to help businesses keep staff and patrons safe.”
“We would all like to return to having no restrictions and going back to seeing loved ones and engaging in all the activities we enjoy. But we must only do so only when we have adequate certainty that the probability of infection and illness is very low and that a more severe variant is not on the horizon,” Yedlin says.
“We are not there yet.”
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