As the province prepares to allow businesses to reopen in the wake of COVID-19 closures, business owners included in phase one of the province’s relaunch strategy, along with Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, are questioning whether the timeline for reopening is realistic.
“I was surprised on Thursday afternoon when I heard some of the details of the relaunch strategy, and in particular when I heard that May 14 date,” said Nenshi at a May 5 press conference following the unveiling of the province’s plans. “My first instinctual reaction was that it feels way too early.”
Beginning May 14, some retail businesses, personal services, such as hairstylists and barbers, museums, art galleries and all farmers’ markets will be allowed to open. Cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs can reopen public seating so long as they maintain 50 per cent capacity, and daycares and summer camps can resume operations.
This will be the first of four phases outlined in the province’s relaunch strategy with advancement through the stages being dependent on infection rates remaining low.
In addition to worrying about the timing of phase one’s implementation, Nenshi also questioned the timing of the government’s announcement.
“Is two weeks long enough for businesses to get up to speed on what they need to do in order to reopen?”
The province has stressed businesses must implement safety measures that align with current provincial guidelines when they reopen.
Kevin Kent, founder and owner of Knifewear and Kent of Inglewood, argues that the province’s guidelines don’t give business owners enough details to work with.
“I think they've given some basic outlines of what to do, but they haven't really given any specifics at all,” he said.
“We have heard from many, many, many businesses… that they are very confused as to what it is they need to do.”
This confusion will likely lead to some owners keeping their businesses closed past May 14, and although these business owners might feel pressured to reopen if their competitors are doing so, Nenshi stressed that in these unprecedented times, everyone must make the decisions that are right for them.
“I want to make this very clear,” he said. “No business is required to open. It’s a decision you have to make for yourself.”
Knifewear and Kent of Inglewood founder and owner Kevin Kent has decided not to reopen his Calgary locations come May 14 because he feels the province’s relaunch is beginning too soon. “I don’t want to get in a position where we could get locked down again.” Photo courtesy of Kevin Kent.
For his own part, Kent has been thinking about what the protocol might be when it comes time to reopen, but admits that even with his planning, the government’s announcement came out of the blue.
“It was really sprung on us,” he said. “We’ve been thinking about it for months now. We just didn’t know we had to come up with a plan, you know, today.”
When strict public health measures were first put in place, Kent was forced to lay off 35 of his team members.
“It was a terrible day,” he said. “I’ve always told my staff we would never do things like that and it was the only thing we could do.”
And although reopening means he could rehire those employees, he’s worried that it’s still too early.
“I don’t want to get in a position where we could get locked down again.”
In an attempt to avoid that scenario, Kent has already made the decision to forego the May 14 reopening date.
“We’re talking about June 1… because I’m not sure, I’m not convinced it’s the right time yet.”
In the meantime, Kent is working to develop a comprehensive protocol for the reopening of his stores with the help of emergency room doctors, people who lived in Hong Kong through the SARS epidemic and fellow business owners.
He shared his plan on Twitter in hopes of receiving feedback and even helping others who might be struggling to develop their own plan.
Who should be included in phase one?
While some business owners, like Kent, are simply choosing to hold off on reopening, others are questioning whether they should be allowed to reopen right now at all.
On May 4, Sarah Yoageeswaran, co-owner of Brass Cat Hair Salon, started a change.org petition detailing her concerns about hairstylists and barbers being included in phase one of the province’s relaunch plan.
Her primary concern revolves around the fact that hairstylists and barbers cannot physically distance themselves from their customers.
“We're very close to our clientele. I mean, we’re right in their faces” she says. “We can distance ourselves [when having] conversations, but when it comes to the actual applying of product or cutting hair, we cannot distance.”
This means those employed by hair salons and barbershops will need to have access to proper personal protective equipment (PPE), which comes at a cost both financially and at the expense of other, potentially more important, industries.
“I mean, we want to make sure that we’re protecting ourselves and our staff, when they’re ready to come back, to the utmost degree,” Yoageeswaran said. “But at the same time I’m seeing pieces written about dentists who are having trouble getting proper PPE and I feel like that would be a profession that I think is more important to be relaunched than us and I don’t want to be taking away from them.”
Within two days of her petition being launched, it had received over 3,000 signatures, a number that was still climbing by the hour.
“There’s quite a bit of support there, it seems, from stylists and owners alike,” she said. “I think that there's a pretty good sentiment across the industry of us feeling like guinea pigs, you know, just because we are in such close contact with people.”
Sarah Yoageeswaran, co-owner of Brass Cat Hair Salon in Calgary, has started a petition detailing her concerns with hairstylists and barbers being included in phase one of the province’s relaunch strategy, saying many in the industry feel like “guinea pigs.” Photo courtesy of Sarah Yoageeswaran
Businesses seeking more guidance
Like many others, Yoageeswaran and her partner have decided not to open Brass Cat Hair Salon come May 14 because of the uncertainty surrounding the province’s relaunch plan.
“We’re not comfortable opening until we have a little bit more guidance from the province,” she explained. Instead, they are currently aiming to reopen in June provided they receive more direction from the province before then.
“And we know that there are some repercussions that come with [not reopening],” Yoageeswaran said.
“We may lose business because we’re not intending to open immediately.”
- By Kyra Bird