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Calgary businesses continue to adapt as COVID-19 public health restrictions swing back to Step 1

Walking a fine line to stay in business, Red’s Diner and other Calgary businesses are in a constant tug-of-war with public health restrictions.

This time the public health restrictions tugged back.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday that Alberta would reverse course into Step 1 of the province’s public health rule relaxation plan. It was in response to 1,000 cases of COVID-19 per day reported over the Easter holiday weekend.

In Wednesday’s update, the Alberta COVID-19 case count topped 1,351, with 333 people in hospital and 79 of those in intensive care.

“If everybody were to comply with the public-health measures that were in place over the past few weeks, we wouldn’t be seeing the kind of huge exponential growth that we are right now,” Premier Kenney said Tuesday.

Starting Friday, indoor dining at restaurants will once again be prohibited. That will once again impact traffic at Calgary eateries.

“I think this whole thing is a crapshoot,” said Bruce Campbell, president of Red’s Diner.

“They’re trying things to see if they work and if they do, they do them again. If they don’t, they try something else. I think we got to give them a bit of a break, this is new ground for everybody.”

Restaurants are back to takeout, delivery and outdoor patio dining options for service. Retail businesses must reduce customer capacity to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy.

Thankfully, it’s patio weather

For Red’s Diner, the whole experience means exploring ways to better utilize patio space.

“We’re going to make our patio as close to a year-round patio as we can, like 12 months a year,” said Campbell.

“Get heaters out there and partially enclose it to protect it from the elements in the wintertime and cooler months.”

For Reds’ 4 locations across Calgary, this is just one adaptation being made to stay afloat during the pandemic.

“I don’t know if it’s all bad you know,” said Campbell.

“We’ve been forced to come up with new sources of revenue, new ways of managing our business.”

While these restrictions are meant to protect Albertans, but they might not be hitting the mark

In Campbell’s opinion, it’s not the restaurants, but social gatherings that are the biggest cause for concern.

“We clean so much, disinfect so much,” said Campbell.

“We’ve just gotten used to this, it’s part of our business, it’s what we do.”

While there are outliers and cases of bad restaurant practices, Campbell says that a vast majority of restaurants are doing the right thing.

Retailers with reduced capacity

On the retail side of things, small businesses may actually be better suited for maintaining public safety.

“Small retail, in my mind, is the safest place to be if you’re going shopping,” said Gordon Johansen, owner of The Sentry Box, a hobby and game store in Calgary’s southwest.

Compared to big-box retailers and shopping malls, small retailers can adequately restrict customer numbers to safe levels.

Whereas in a mall, even at 15 per cent capacity, is still a massive amount of people.

“The problem is with a mall, they’re counting 20 per cent of the retail capacity and cramming everybody into the halls,” said Johansen.

Even if a specific store is restricting the number of customers, everybody else is waiting in line outside the door.

For The Sentry Box, their COVID precautions have stayed the same since the very beginning.

“When we reopened [last] May, we had full mask requirements, sanitation and separate entrances and exits,” said Johansen.

According to fire code occupancy, Sentry Box technically could have up to 56 people in-store. They have a self-imposed cap of 15 to 20.

For retailers like The Sentry Box, bigger issues arise from the global supply chain and maintaining stock.

“That was an issue, and still has been an issue,” said Johansen.

“There’s still massive shortages on certain products.”

Step 1 COVID-19 restrictions

In addition to restaurants and retail restrictions, Alberta is imposing a variety of other guidelines as well.

Personal and wellness services such as hair and nail salons are to be by appointment only.

Indoor fitness is limited to one-on-one lessons, with no drop-in or group fitness activities.

Places of worship will continue to operate at 15 per cent capacity.

Indoor social gatherings continue to be prohibited.