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Not Ready For Relaunch?

Tyler Waugh Photo
The Valley Bottle Depot has re-opened, with new COVID-19 safeguards in place for employees and customers. Other businesses are facing some challenges in reparation for re-opening as part of the first phase of Alberta’s relaunch strategy.

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Lack of clarity in guidelines and backlogged PPE orders creating some anxiety for local businesses

Stage 1 of Alberta’s relaunch strategy has been met with mixed reviews from local businesses. 

Some have said that the potential date of May 14 for Stage 1 is too early and lacks guidance from the government.

Stage 1 includes the reopening of retail, farmers’ markets, some personal services like hairstyling and barber shops, dental offices, cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars, museums and art galleries, daycares and out-of-school care, summer camps, post-secondary institutions, and some additional outdoor recreation.

Donna Wagner, who owns a private salon attached to her home in Hinton, is concerned about the lack of guidelines that were presented. 

“The government and the province and even the Town of Hinton are so evasive and ambiguous,” she said.

She spent some time looking through Alberta’s workplace guidance for Alberta’s relaunch but feels that more clarity is needed from medical officials on how to safely open her salon and what rules she must follow.

“People don’t have a problem following rules, but they need to know what they are,” she said.

“If we had clear guidelines it would just be easier for every industry, every business, everyone. We would all be in compliance then.”

Wagner previously owned a shop in Hinton with multiple employees working at a time and she understands how difficult physical distancing would be in a busy salon.

Carol Dallaire, a hair stylist at Creative Haircare in Hinton, said some salons where physical distancing is more difficult will have to make sure not every chair is being operated. She added that hair stylists being included in phase one is confusing.

With so many physical distancing restrictions still in place, she questions why a hair stylist will soon be allowed to stand within arms length to do their job.

“All stores have some type of barrier to keep the six feet distance, but our clients, they’re there anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours. And for probably a good 30 minutes to two hours you’re in direct contact with that client,” Dallaire said, adding that it doesn’t add up, especially since nothing about the virus has changed.

“Besides the fact that we haven’t had any cases in Hinton. Is the virus all of a sudden not as contagious?” she questioned.

Dallaire said her biggest concern is how she will be able to physically distance from clients and what the government is putting in place for hair stylists to safely work.

Melanie Widenmaier, owner of The Old Grind café, says she’s going overboard on protecting her customers and staff, but feels that the onus of damage control is now on the local municipal government. 

Businesses closed due to the risk of the virus and now that they are reopening, people have to understand that local businesses are doing everything they can to keep customers safe.

Widenmaier also noted some negative feedback on physical distancing measures implemented by other businesses, and said people need to know that those businesses are complying with directives from the authorities. She said it is important that the public show up and support local businesses.

“I’ve asked the local government, how are they going to reinspire confidence in our community that it is safe for them to proceed out into the world again,” she said.

The municipal government needs to inform the public on what is being required of businesses that are reopening, she said. Bylaw officers will be checking in with businesses before they open to make sure it is safe to do so, she added.

“I would love to see something go in everybody’s mailbox in town that explains what to be expected when they go out into the community and explains what businesses are doing. Sharing that information so that it inspires confidence in our community again,” Widenmaier said.

She also noted that many businesses can’t afford to be closed down again, which is why community support is so important right now.

“We’re guinea pigs to see what will happen, but I know that if 50 per cent of the businesses get shut down again they won’t make it,” Widenmaier said.

Staff are working to put all barriers and plans in place before they reopen the cafe. Widenmaier said the guidelines presented May 11 through the Alberta Biz Connect webpage does help in that it affirms the corrections and controls put in place at The Old Grind.

Physical distancing floor marker at the Old Grind

What remains to be seen will be the interpretation of these guidelines by the authorities, bylaw and Alberta Health Services (AHS), with respect to unique spaces and situations, she added.

“We are planning to open after the May long weekend as long as we are given the go ahead to do so by the appropriate authorities, and will release a specific date soon,” Widenmaier said.

Widenmaier registered for personal protective equipment (PPE) through the government but received custom-made reusable masks for each staff member from a quilting guild.

The cafe has been rearranged to limit seating and clear guidelines will be displayed for customers as they enter.

Barriers are being installed, as well as new shelving with displays for all products.

“There won’t be anything out in the open, we’ve got our plan for the Old Grind figured out quite well,” Widenmaier said.

The large space of the Old Grind allows for tables to be spread apart, and staff will be enforcing crowd control.

“We had to create an entirely new health and safety policy to accommodate COVID-19,” Widenmaier said.

The new policies and procedures also come with a cost, and Widenmaier said they’ve already spent thousands of dollars; money that is not currently coming in.

Another worry is reduced sales due to the lack of visitors in Hinton under current restrictions.

Starting on the May long weekend, 50 per cent of their business comes from tourism, she said.

With gathering restrictions still at 15, the cafe is also losing out on catering jobs.

Despite the lack of clarity in guidelines, Wagner has put together regulations for her salon to keep both herself and her clients safe.

With PPE not coming in on time, she doesn’t think she’ll be opening on May 19 like she originally planned.

Once she opens, only one client will be allowed in at a time with half an hour in between each appointment to allow for cleaning.

A sanitizing station and facemasks will be available for clients upon entry.

Moustache and beard trims are out of the question, as each client will be required to wear a mask.

Once a client has booked their appointment, Wagner plans to send them instructions and new protocols for when they enter the salon.

Wagner has enough masks and capes to change in between each client, she added.

If a client wants to touch anything in the salon for retail, they will have to put on disposable gloves which Wagner is also supplying.

“Our industry is also encouraged to charge extra for that. Because why would or should we have to endure the costs and for how long… some are going to put in like a five dollar fee on top of your service, or raise prices,” she said.

Wagner ordered PPE, like masks, from Amazon, which she is still waiting on. The Government of Alberta has since offered a PPE Request Form, through which employers can order PPE through the POC (Provincial Operations Centre).

Businesses that are currently allowed to operate or will be allowed to operate in the next phase, beginning May 14, can request PPE this way, but orders won’t be filled before June, Wagner said.

The Valley Bottle Depot opened its doors on May 12, after being closed for nearly two months.

They have implemented the necessary precautions and are limiting the number of bags to seven per customer in order to keep the line moving.Truck loads will need to phone in and make arrangements for a drop off.

“I feel the guidelines are decent. We have put plexiglass barriers in the windows, and resurfaced the counters with puck boards to make it a more cleanable surface. The Alberta Bottle Depot Association (ABDA) and Alberta Beverage Container Recycling Corporation (ABCRC) has kept us informed and have given us the option of purchasing PPE directly through them, which has been extremely helpful in preparing to reopen,” said Diane Hall, owner of the Valley Bottle Depot.

The local shareshop hasn’t set a date to reopen and will need extra time to review the options.

“We have not yet made a plan, at this point we’re not reopening,” said Barb Meredith, President of the share shop.

She added that it would be difficult to monitor the shop and make sure physical distancing is being enforced at this time.