by Phil Ambroziak

When the COVID-19 crisis has finally been overcome, exactly what the lasting impact will be on the local business community remains to be seen.

However, a number of business owners, managers, as well as representatives from local non-profit organizations met Monday afternoon (April 13) via Zoom – a video conferencing application – to discuss this very subject. The meeting was organized by the Meadow Lake and District Chamber of Commerce.

“The world started to change for all of us in the last month or so,” remarked Chamber administrator Trevor Dignean, who hosted the meeting.

Dignean went on to say the purpose of Monday’s gathering was to see what the COVID-19 impact has been on local businesses and other services, as well as what the new normal will look like following the global pandemic.

According to Tammy Edwards, who along with her husband, Dean, owns the Mill Town Sports Bar, said she has had to lay off more than 40 employees. The bar is currently closed with the exception of off sales.

“We’ve just been trying to stay on top of everybody (employees), trying to stay in contact with them to make sure they’re still OK,” Edwards explained.
Edwards went on to say she has also made her employees aware Saskatchewan Mental Health has programming in place to help people who are scared and who are experiencing anxiety.

“Anxiety is very rampant,” she said. “When I talk to my employees, a major concern is what tomorrow will bring. These are unprecedented times and nobody knows what is happening, which creates all kinds of ifs, ands or buts, and we’re just trying to do our best to make sure everybody is still well mentally, as well as physically.”

Edwards speaks with her employees daily to ensure they’ll be ready to come back to work when the time is right.

“I still need them to help run my business,” she said. “If I stay in contact with them as much as I have been, hopefully the odds go back up we will be able to start running at 100 per cent again. We’re just trying to do the best we can.”

The restaurant portion of the business has been closed since late March. Edwards did note, however, she has looked into the various wage subsidies now being offered by both the federal and provincial governments.

“Once we get back into the swing of things, businesses will start to open up again slowly but I think restaurants are going to be one of the last things to get going,” she said. My projection is, if we’re ready to go by Sept. 1, we’re going to be lucky.”

Another business unsure of when it will be able to reopen is Aurora Cinemas. During Monday’s Zoom meeting, manager Amber Ambroziak said, even though the theatre is temporarily closed, she has been looking at alternative ways to keep the business relevant.

“I’m doing whatever I can with popcorn and concession sales so we can still make enough money to pay the rent at our location,” Ambroziak said. “We don’t have a huge staff by any means, but this whole thing has hurt them as well. Even though most of them are students, they still have their bills to pay too.”

As part of Aurora’s ongoing concession sales, the theatre offered special Easter combos this past weekend and also has a new service in place called Dino Deliveries.

“The Dino Deliveries thing is just a way of lifting people’s spirits,” Ambroziak said. “We were halfway through doing popcorn deliveries one day when I asked my friend if she wanted to dress like a dinosaur and put some smiles on kids faces. It just kind of went from there.”

Meanwhile, Chris MacFarlane of Meadow Lake Properties and PK Properties, said his company will be in trouble if COVID-19 results in the loss of the entire summer construction season. He also said he would rather see more forgiveness than deferrals when it comes to certain COVID-19 solutions.

“Deferrals just means they’re pushing the problem further down the road,” he added. “The banks, property taxes and so on, if they would forgive a little more than simply defer things, that would be very helpful. Our property taxes are high enough, and we’re still paying basic utility costs. Everyone here has the exact same problems, but there is zero income coming in. I’m struggling to see why the government isn’t acknowledging that.”

While MacFarlane is in favour of seeing local businesses support each other, he reiterated how imperative it is for his company to get back to business sooner rather than later.

“Construction has been listed as an essential service, but the government has also done a good job of scaring everybody into not going near anybody else,” he said. “Our plumbers and carpenters don’t want to be going into other people’s houses and putting themselves at risk. We can do essential stuff and emergency call work, but it’s still tricky.”