Varcoe: After 14 hellish months, Alberta small businesses eager for summer reopening


For entrepreneur Dana Blonde, Wednesday’s announcement that Alberta has a blueprint in place that could see all businesses fully reopen this summer — possibly by the end of June — was bittersweet.

It’s been 437 days since she closed the doors on her yoga studio in northwest Calgary.

She hasn’t reopened them to the public since — and is now involved in a legal dispute with her former landlord — but the owner of Yoga Shala has resolutely kept the business going by providing online sessions since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Blonde is thrilled about the possibility of life returning to normal across Alberta. Yet, she is nervous about the prospect of finding another location and signing another lease for a studio, given the turbulence of the past year and the unpredictable road ahead.

“Most of us are just hanging on, with the desperate hope there will be something left for our businesses at the end of this,” Blonde said, shortly after the announcement by the province.

“I know everyone will be calling and asking me if we’re going to be reopening. I can’t answer that right now. I don’t know what will happen.”

On Wednesday, small business owners across the province were processing the long-awaited news that their operations could return to normal if vaccination rates increase and the number of COVID-19 cases in hospitals falls in the coming weeks.

Many were ecstatic, expressing optimism there is a clear strategy now in place for Alberta businesses to fully reopen.

Some talked about the heavy losses incurred over the past year, the stress of trying to make payroll as sales plunged, while striving to keep customers and staff safe as health orders changed.

They are also grateful their businesses survived and there’s finally some daylight ahead.

Mostly, they’re preparing to get back to regular business after a long, arduous journey that is not quite done.

“As I was watching the Alberta update, I was sending out messages to our staff and the response was super positive. Everyone is ready to get back to it,” said Francis Hopkins, who operates the Grizzly House restaurant in Banff.

“I am just happy to go down the road of good news.”

Premier Jason Kenney’s government unveiled the three-step plan Wednesday to reopen for the summer. Under the first stage, restaurants forced to close earlier this month due to surging COVID-19 cases will be able to open their patios to the public on June 1, while personal and wellness services can reopen by appointment only.