Beaten by COVID-19, restaurants and bars despair of closing their patios

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With another round of restrictions, many pubs and restaurants will fail in the summer, said Ernie Tsu, president of the Alberta Hospitality Association.

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Joanne Lowden said she spent $ 14,000 preparing the outdoor patios of her two Calgary pubs, only to see them closed during the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions.

“We’ve spent so much money on our operations, we’ve done everything AHS asked us to do and now we’re closed,” said Lowden, owner of two Pig and Duke pubs.

“It affects us considerably. We’re going to have to shut down our downtown. “

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jason Kenney announced new measures to end a growing third wave of COVID-19 infections, including closing outdoor patios, leaving bars and restaurants with the only take-out and to be delivered for at least the next three weeks.

With the dramatic acceleration of vaccinations expected this month, “I hope if people really get the message this may be the last round of short-term health restrictions and these companies can hopefully get back to a halt. been decent, ”Kenney said at a press conference Wednesday.

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But Lowden said the measures are just the latest in a string of bodily blows to his industry, business and staff who have long paid the price.

“My staff are going crazy, they are all crammed together,” she said, adding that she had just paid rent which will now be wasted in one of her establishments.

“The $ 10,000 the government gave us just disappeared. . . . Will the province give us back the money we spent on all of this? “

Lowden’s complaint is typical of the province’s pub and restaurant sector, many of which won’t be attending in the summer, said Ernie Tsu, president of the Alberta Hospitality Association.

“We have already had a number of closures in Calgary in the last three or four weeks and we have lost faith in the government,” said Tsu, owner of Trolley 5 Brewpub on 17th Avenue SW.

“There will be more unemployment.”

Tsu said he will hold another thought-provoking meeting with staff on Thursday to discuss the fallout from the terrace closure that will inevitably lead to layoffs.

These companies have absorbed the cost of furniture, plexiglass and wood at a very high price for outdoor seating – investments that will not be recouped as the weather improves for the patio season, did he declare.

“It comes at the worst time. You’re trying to get yourself out of debt from this situation and the first and second lockdowns, ”Tsu said.

Trolley 5 Brewpub owner Ernie Tsu said the government was not getting enough support for restaurants and bars.
Trolley 5 Brewpub owner Ernie Tsu said the government was not getting enough support for restaurants and bars. Photo by Darren Makowichuk / Postmedia

He said shrinking provincial financial aids and federal benefits are not enough to keep many in the industry afloat.

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Tsu highlighted Ontario, where restaurants in the hardest hit areas receive steep discounts on utilities and property taxes – aid not available here.

And he said the province should compensate bars and restaurants for the investments they have made in anti-COVID patios.

“There doesn’t seem to be a plan,” he says.

Tsu said the industry was in full agreement to help ease the strain on the healthcare system, but added that assistance and a coherent plan to reopen were needed.

Some, including Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, said too many visitors to the terrace broke public health rules by saying they could only be with other people in their homes.

But Tsu insists most industry players have done their best to maintain the restriction.

The opposition NDP also called on the UCP government to provide more aid to companies forced to sacrifice themselves.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said on Wednesday that the UCP government’s mismanagement of the pandemic and the resulting abrupt policy changes had whipped restaurant and bar owners.

“When we got out of the second wave and Jason Kenney said, ‘There won’t be a backlash on this easing of restrictions,’ how many restaurateurs came out and invested in creating patios, only to find out that are we back again? ”she said.

Asked Wednesday, Kenney said the third installment of his government’s small and medium-sized business stimulus grant would distribute $ 350 million. The grant provides $ 10,000 to businesses that have lost at least 30% of their revenue in the past year.

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But he said vaccinations were now the main way to escape economically crippling restrictions.

“We will seek to do something more. . . . The vaccine is our net now, ”he said.

There is no specific metric that would trigger the easing of the latest measures, but those will become clearer when the number of cases and hospitalizations drops significantly, the prime minister said.

It could take too long for many in the hospitality industry, said Chad McCormick, who operates two Browns Socialhouse establishments.

“There are some people who are already at the outer limits,” he said.

“It will take persistence. We didn’t think it would take that long.

He said some of his staff will have to be fired again because takeout and delivery cannot replace the in-person experience – even if it’s just an outdoor patio.

“Take out is literally not what we’re designed to be, we’re built for social engagement and interaction,” said McCormick.

“If these are the last steps, that would be good. . . . We’re going to find a way (to survive). “

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, at the end of February, the average debt incurred by restaurant establishments in Alberta over the past year was $ 330,000, among the highest in the country.

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Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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