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Some businesses staying closed amidst relaunch

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Others are adapting operations to offer services and products

Despite phase one of Alberta’s relaunch strategy allowing certain businesses to reopen, some have chosen to delay their own reopen date or find other ways to run their business.

Hinton’s Mr. Mikes is cautiously delaying their reopen date, the Hen House Textile Co. is changing the way they run their business, and the local Northern Rockies Museum of Culture and Heritage is awaiting more changes in the provincial restrictions. 

Mr. Mikes received a big order of food not long before they were ordered to shut down in March, which turned into a big loss, said Karen Halvorson, one of the owners of Mr. Mikes.

That loss had a big impact on how they decided to proceed now that they’re allowed to open again, Halvorson said.

Managers were hesitant about spending a lot of money to get their stock back, especially with the risk of a second wave of COVID-19 shutting the restaurant down in the future.

Their current plan is to open for takeout on June 1, with possible seating on the patio, and fully open the restaurant on June 15 depending on the regulations at that time.

When phase one was first announced, Halvorson was surprised and a little fearful of reopening.

She said personal protective equipment (PPE) wasn’t available then, and they still haven’t received everything they’ll need to open.

“Another reason why we’re behind the eight ball, basically, it’s going to cost us more for that safety equipment then plus our inventory on top of it. It’s a scary time,” Halvorson said.

Halvorson is also concerned about their lease payments for the building, as no revenue is coming in.

“We’re behind in our utilities and a few other bills that didn’t get paid because there just wasn’t any money coming in. It’s just a cashflow thing,” Halvorson said.

On top of that, there will be extra training for staff on how to clear tables and clean them.

Another issue is not bringing back all the staff at the same time; physical distancing restrictions make it difficult to have a fully staffed kitchen, Halvorson added.

Graeme Jones, kitchen manager at Mr. Mikes, said he doesn’t know how many staff members to bring back to work since it’s unclear how busy they will be.

He faces the same issue with how much food the restaurant should order, which is why delaying the reopen date was important.

“Half of [the staff] are still in that phase where they’re skeptical to leave their own houses,” Jones said, but he added that they all look forward to a return to work.

He said it would be hard for front-of-house staff to deal with the different mindsets of customers around the pandemic. Jones said the preliminary issue of why the reopen date is delayed is the possibility of a second wave of the coronavirus that could potentially shut down the restaurant again and damage the business more.

“Hopefully by [June] 15, for dine-in, they’ve cut back on some of the restrictions because I just find it makes for a really uncomfortable dining experience,” Jones added.

Jones is watching how other restaurants in Hinton handle reopening in the hopes of doing it right when they open their own doors. He added that people should be reminded to support locally, even if it is a big name, since some are locally owned, like Mr. Mikes.

“At the same time I want people to remember to go to Opa’s, the small places like that in town. Keep in mind that those are those people’s livelihoods, their incomes, and their businesses too,” Jones said.

The Hen House Textile Co. in Hinton, which sells everything from fabrics to needles and yarn, has also learned to adapt and delayed a full reopening of their store, said Gerry Cherman, one of the store owners. While they decided to reopen on limited hours and take online and phone orders, customers can stop by only by appointment in an attempt to avoid too many people in the store at once. The Hen House is also attempting to restock their products through their suppliers, which are delayed due to the pandemic.

“We ran out of elastic. We sold almost 300 metres of elastic. And that we can’t get any more of and we’re still getting requests,” said Cherman.

The lack of sales has been rough on them too, but slowly some orders are trickling in.

Cherman said elastic only costs about $1.30 per metre, which doesn’t add up to much even though it flew off the shelves with many people making their own face masks at home.

Another big reason for the changes and delay to reopen is due to a lot of their clientele being seniors, Cherman added.

“We’re making sure that we have everything well organized for them when they come in,” Cherman said 

Specific appointments for customers every half hour have helped in sanitizing everything before someone else comes in. While Hinton has been fortunate with a low number of COVID-19 cases, Cherman remains cautious.

“The majority of our customers are older. Myself, I am a senior, I’m over 70. You do think twice about it,” she said.

Museums were included as part of phase one of the relaunch strategy as well, but the Northern Rockies Museum of Culture & Heritage in Hinton won’t be fully opening until more restrictions are lifted. Madison Sharman, manager at the museum, said there was some panic when they first heard they could reopen, due to the mountain of work to get the museum up to par with the Alberta Museum Association standards. 

“They are just a guide for the museums but they are the gold standard, you want to make sure you follow what they are recommending,” Sharman said.

Recommendations from the Alberta Museum Association came out after May 14 when businesses were allowed to reopen again. Sharman added that there wasn’t a lot of guidance from the province for museums, and some directions were confusing.

Without the space to facilitate proper distancing, the Northern Rockies Museum remains closed.

“Our experience is so hands on and personal here, so much of what makes this place great will be lost trying to give a haphazard pseudo tour,” Sharman said.

Tours wouldn’t be possible right now, since the distancing restrictions only allow one person in a room. One of the recommendations included having separate entrance and exit ways for visitors and employees, which the Northern Rockies Museum doesn’t have.

Most of the museum’s revenue streams are also lost. Normally, the museum would be welcoming school tours, tourists from the highway, and special events.

“In the winter time it’s mostly locals, but in the summertime it’s 90 per cent people travelling and birthday parties. They’re all things that we can’t make happen right now,” Sharman said.

For now, the Northern Rockies Museum is waiting for more restrictions to be lifted before they consider fully reopening.

“Right now we do not have space to accommodate what they require and we can’t provide a meaningful experience,” Sharman said.

Looking at alternatives, there are plans in the works to host tours and facilitate activities outside the building. The museum is still offering online programs, which they started as soon as they were ordered to close in March.

A six week online program called Quarantrain provided packages and educational classes three times each week for ages six to twelve. Since that program has ended, it has transitioned into other online education content like the Learning Railway. All which can be found on their website.