The uncertainty of the global coronavirus pandemic is causing anxiety for thousands of small business owners across the country, including in rural Alberta.
The situation is the same for one Alix businesswoman.
Owner/operator of the Alix Hotel for 11 years, Barb Gilliat, only a few weeks ago, had a bar, off-sales section and restaurant in her hotel and employed over a dozen people. After coronavirus became a serious issue in Alberta, much of that has changed.
The Alberta Government declared a medical state of emergency the week of March 16, suddenly instituting a number of measures intended to slow down the spread of coronavirus.
Among the rules are the closure of bars, casinos, dance clubs and entertainment venues like theatres, then on March 27 the provincial government decreed restaurants were forbidden to offer sit-down dining and can offer take-out and delivery only.
Gilliat said she first heard about coronavirus in January, that it was in Wuhan, China and fairly far away.
“Of course, like everyone else, you don’t think it’s going to come here,” said Gilliat in her restaurant on March 26.
Gilliat said she found out about the state of emergency announcement through social media and then closed her bar March 17.
That afternoon around 4:30 p.m. the VLTs, controlled by the provincial government, were turned off but that didn’t surprise her, as the machines attract people in close proximity and require a lot of touching to operate.
The businesswoman said she contacted the provincial government to confirm what happened and received clarification that businesses with primarily food service could remain open but bars had to close until further notice.
She noted the bar is a major part of her gross income and without it, she couldn’t keep the entire operation going.
She suddenly went from 18 employees to four and had no choice but to lay off almost everyone, not just for her customer’s safety, but for her employee’s too.
To keep her operation going, she converted the bar into a restaurant for the time being.
Some of her laid-off staff have applied for unemployment, but some financial relief programs are for people who’ve tested positive for coronavirus and have to leave work, not simply for lay-offs.
The owner said she was very happy to see the province announce some WCB relief, but she’s still under a lot of pressure as she has a GST payment coming up at the end of March plus insurance and lots of other expenses, while revenue generation is hamstrung.
Switching up her business is also causing some tumult, as Gilliat said restaurant patrons don’t necessarily order the same way bar patrons do, and off-sales customers don’t usually order the same libations bar patrons do.
For example, she recently ordered more draft beer for the bar, but now, technically, she doesn’t have a bar to offer that beer in.
Gilliat said the fact that nothing quite like coronavirus has ever struck the business community before is intimidating.
“It’s such an unknown,” she said. Although she’s trying to keep a positive attitude, she’s heard that the pandemic could cause up to 30 per cent of small businesses to shut down and not knowing how long this will go on is causes her a lot of anxiety.
Gilliat said she knows people are spooked by the pandemic but she said she strongly encourages people to get out, if they can, to support local businesses in this troubling time.
She also hopes people follow the government’s advice for controlling coronavirus.
“If everybody does what they’re supposed to do, maybe it will be over soon,” she added.
Stu Salkeld, LJI reporter