Calgary bar makes ‘tough decision’ to shut down as Alberta COVID-19 cases grow

It was a tough and painful call to make but a necessary one, according to the owner of Dickens pub.

On Facebook, Chris Hewitt said the curfew isn’t enough to get the COVID-19 cases under control in Alberta so he is closing temporarily for two to three weeks.

“Rather than waiting — we are four figures a day for new cases — and I thought maybe we should do something ourselves and take a break,” Hewitt said.

Read more: Further COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings announced across much of Alberta

He said while the health regulations will be adhered up to that 11 p.m. order to close, there’s nothing stopping those people from leaving the pub to the nearest house party.

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“People are already going out to house parties. Just this past weekend, when events ended here, everybody was arranging which house party they were going to,” Hewitt said.

“I know what people are like when they’re drinking. We are here to provide a safe atmosphere but when they leave here, we can’t do that anymore.”

Hewitt felt like there is no other alternative and is shocked the province hasn’t imposed tougher restrictions.

Click to play video 'COVID-19: Alberta reduces restaurant hours, liquor sale times in some areas' COVID-19: Alberta reduces restaurant hours, liquor sale times in some areas

COVID-19: Alberta reduces restaurant hours, liquor sale times in some areas

“I’m surprised. I did think more was coming out on Thursday,” Hewitt said.

“I didn’t feel comfortable and responsible to keep inviting people down here with things the way they are.”

He knows it’s not the decision for every business, but needed to do what was right for his.

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Read more: Some businesses feel singled out as Alberta brings in stricter COVID-19 measures

“That’s the driving force, I worry about everyone, I worry about myself and my wife as a general manager and my friends,” Hewitt said.

“I went to bed convinced it was the right move woke up thinking it was the wrong move.”

“I know this isn’t the decision that covers every base, I know that.”

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Alberta Health communications director, Zoë Cooper, acknowledged operators have worked hard to follow the guidance in place.

“However, individual businesses can chose to take additional actions if they feel it is in their best interest as independent operators, as many have in fact done throughout the pandemic,” Cooper said.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Alberta Health recommends dining out over at-home gatherings' Coronavirus: Alberta Health recommends dining out over at-home gatherings

Coronavirus: Alberta Health recommends dining out over at-home gatherings

Malek El-Chehimi, owner of Simon King Donair in South Edmonton, said every day is stressful.

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“It’s a headache sometimes, it’s hard,” said El-Chehimi.

“You work, work, work and in the end, you have to shut down and then lose money.”

Since the pandemic, the restaurant has lost nearly 50 per cent of its sales. El-Chehimi said he had no choice but to layoff two staff members and right now the business is struggling to make any money.

“We’re just paying our bills and paying our rent and no profit, honestly.”

Read more: Low sales, fewer customers creating dire situation for Alberta small businesses: CFIB

The Alberta chapter of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said a survey of its members from Oct. 22, 2020, pointed to 16 per cent of small businesses on the verge of bankruptcy or closing – that amounts to about 32,000 businesses.

Annie Dormuth with the CFIB called that a “startling number.”

“That is our friends and families,” said Dormuth.

“Many of the local businesses that we know and love are in a really difficult position right now.”

Click to play video 'Thousands of struggling small Alberta businesses considering bankruptcy, closure' Thousands of struggling small Alberta businesses considering bankruptcy, closure

Thousands of struggling small Alberta businesses considering bankruptcy, closure

The CFIB said many of its members are scraping by, making just enough to keep the lights on and pay staff.

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Dormuth said the worst-case scenario for many of these employers is another lockdown similar to what was imposed in March.

“Another lockdown in the foreseeable future without the supports there would be quite devastating,” stressed Dormuth. She said federal support programs for small business have not yet been delivered and the government of Alberta hasn’t provided additional supports either.

Click to play video 'UCP and Alberta NDP debate economy recovery plan as Legislature session resumes' UCP and Alberta NDP debate economy recovery plan as Legislature session resumes

UCP and Alberta NDP debate economy recovery plan as Legislature session resumes – Oct 20, 2020

Alberta’s NDP called on the UCP government to offer more support to small business, stating without more financial aid, it would lead to “disastrous consequences.”

“While they’ve offered some deferrals and a small grant, it just isn’t enough,” said NDP leader Rachel Notley.

“Jason Kenney is putting these businesses and the economy at risk by standing on the sidelines and doing nothing.”

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The Opposition laid out seven measures it said would better prepare business owners for any future restrictions that could come:

  1. Triple the funding for the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant offered by the government to $600 million total, allowing for businesses to receive $10,000 each (up from $5,000) and lowering the qualifying threshold from 50 per cent revenue lost to 40 per cent revenue lost during any two-month period of the pandemic (not just April and May as it currently specified).
  2. Match the incoming federal Lockdown Support program up to 25 per cent to provide coverage to businesses forced to close as a result of COVID-19.
  3. Reinstate the commercial eviction ban that expired on Aug. 31 for six months to April 2021.
  4. Reinstate the ban on utility shutoffs for six months and institute a deferral of up to 6 months to April 2021. Also, amend legislation to authorize forgiveness on utility costs or reduced rates at a later date.
  5. Renew call for 50 per cent reduction on small business insurance and extend reduction to June 30, 2021.
  6. Provide government-backed low interest lines of credit of up to $30,000.
  7. Introduce a COVID-19 Risk Index that gives business the ability to plan for moving up or down a stage of the relaunch strategy.

The CFIB said small businesses have stepped up to adjust their day-to-day operations to protect the public, but some are starting to question targeted restrictions, especially fitness studios and bars predominately impacted by the latest restrictions.

Read more: Pushback against Alberta government suspending dance and team sports

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“What small businesses want to see if we are to enter into another round of lockdown measures, is simply put the data out there that supports that,” said Dormuth.

El-Chehimi said he too is watching the COVID-19 case numbers in Edmonton and wants to see them drop – but if the province was to order another full lockdown, the donair shop would likely close for good in less than a few months.

“We’ll fight to the end.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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