Local biz continue to bear brunt of COVID-19 shutdowns

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Local business owners continue to hang on as provincial restrictions were extended.

On Thursday, Jan. 7, Premier Jason Kenney announced casinos, hair salons, tattoo parlours, libraries, gyms and dine-in service at restaurants will remain closed for another two weeks. Retail services, shopping malls and places of worship will also need to keep capacity at 15 per cent of fire code occupancy. Kenney said the restrictions, which came into effect in mid-December, will be kept in place until provincial health officials are able to see the impact of the holiday season on the spread of COVID-19.

“Premier Jason Kenney even announced there have been zero cases linked to our industry. Yet, he still shut us down for some reason. I don’t understand it and he continues to keep us shut down. A lot of people said they were going to open up regardless on Monday,” Clark MacLeod, owner and artist at Anthem Tattoo. Co. told The News, adding his shop off Baseline Road will stay closed.

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Despite the busy holiday shopping season, said the shop was busy before the shutdown as many artists are booked for weeks to months with clients. Five of the nine sub-contracting artists support families, which made the pre-Christmas shutdown even harder.

Since mid-December, the local tattoo collective has been keeping afloat by selling merchandise, prints and paintings, but that doesn’t amount to much.

“You’re not going to sell $4,000 a month worth of prints,” he said. “We’ve had to refund a lot of deposits for appointments, which is a bummer because we don’t have any income. Some people are not 100 per cent confident in getting a tattoo so it also gives them an opportunity to completely bail. It’s just easier to refund someone their money instead of arguing to say that we’re closed and we need all of the money we can get.”

Artists at Anthem Tattoo Co., located at #408 222 Baseline Road in Sherwood Park, hopes business will pick up after the latest provincial shutdown. Between the spring and the current shutdowns, the business estimates it has lost more than $150,000. Photo Supplied

The shop has adopted many COVID-19 regulations, including mask wearing by both artists and clients, COVID-19 tracing waivers, temperature checks, a closed waiting room, and having clients wait in their cars for appointments. Anthem Tattoo could be considered the gold standard in the province since an Alberta Health Services’ health inspector continues to use the location as an example to train students in that sector.

MacLeod estimates between the two shutdowns, the business has lost more than $150,00.

“It’s a lot. I haven’t actually thought about it until you asked me. It’s a terrible amount,” he noted.

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Anthem has received support from its landlord, which signed up for the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy offered by the federal government. The shop’s artists were able to receive the Canada Emergency Response Benefit as well.

“It’s hard. I check in with them every day and we had a big staff meeting before the shut down because I just wanted to make sure everyone was able to go about their business and be able to pay their bills, and if they needed anything, they knew they could reach out to me, but luckily, I have a team of very smart people.

The province is set to re-evaluate restrictions on Jan. 21, but if the government decides to reopen, it told businesses it will provide a week’s notice. Based on the extended shutdown in the spring, MacLeod said he’s not that confident this will only last a few weeks. However, he holds on to hopes of being busy upon reopening.

“I remember when we came out of the first shut down, it was mental. We were all booked. We were all booked for months, even our slowest guys. That’s whats’ I’m trying to hold on to. When we come back, people will be so eager for tattoos and just the opportunity to leave the house and be social. So, I’m trying not to lose my cool now,” added MacLeod.

“People need to remember that we’re here and to continue to support local”

Christy Amason, owner of Empowerfit, wasn’t surprised by the extended shutdown. She also isn’t hopeful that the province will offer a reopening announcement on Jan. 21, but expects February might be a more realistic timeline.

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She’s had to overhaul her business model with more virtual classes in order to survive. Fitness studios were impacted three weeks prior to the Dec. 13 shutdown as group classes were cancelled by the province.

“It’s hard now because we have to over-deliver and go far beyond what we normally do just to keep people engaged and motivated. We’re doing everything that we can do to not lose members while we’re shut down,” Amason said. “I’m confident that we will be able to hold on, but I just don’t know what kind of position that puts us in once we do reopen and the struggle that we’ll have to bear for months and months. We’ve already taken the loans and applied for the grants, but after being closed for four months total, that doesn’t help at this stage. We just go further into debt and we need to work harder to make that up. It’s going to take longer to be a profitable and successful business.”

Sherwood Park’s EmpowerFit shifted its in-person group fitness sessions to virtual classes since mid-November when such activities were banned by the province. Owner, Chrisy Amason was not surprised by the province’s latest two-week shutdown extension. Photo Supplied

It’s no secret that January is the busiest month for the fitness industry due to the influx of people who made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and exercise more. In preparation for that, the company put money into marketing on those programs, but it was all for not. While a few inquires are coming in about offerings upon reopening, the business is not seeing new clients registering.

Since the gym caters to pregnant and postpartum women, and offers a welcoming space for their children, the locally-owned business implemented physically distanced workouts, increased cleaning procedures, screened clients, and had a masking policy (with exception to during workouts, as per AHS direction).

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“We had Occupational Health and Safety come in for an inspection and we passed with flying colours. If there was something we can do, it’s been done. The studio is one of the safest places I’ve seen to date in our community,” stated Amason.

A few staff members were laid off during the spring shutdown, but now with a smaller group of sub-contractors, the gym hopes to keep people employed. It continues to offer physiotherapy and massage services.

“People need to remember that we’re here and to continue to support local,” Amason added.

Statistics Canada: Alberta lost 11,900 jobs in December

Alberta lost 11,900 jobs in December following the stricter COVID-19 measures. The province continues to have one of the high rates of unemployment in the country, at 11 per cent, reported by Statistics Canada on Friday in its Labour Force Survey. Most of the jobs lost impacted the 15 to 24 demographic in part-time work.

The survey, conducted from Dec. 6-12, shows the effects of the measures the province put in place in November including closing banquet halls, conference centres and trade shows to in-person services, limiting capacity at retail stores, pharmacies and grocery stores to 25 per cent and requiring casinos to offer slots only.

January’s survey, which will be released on Feb. 5, will capture the impacts of the business closures and retail capacity limits announced Dec. 13.

— With files from Jeff Labine

lmorey@postmedia.com

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