The Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce is asking the B.C. Chamber of Commerce to bend the government’s ear on behalf of business associations speaking up for owners and workers of pubs and restaurants.
The request was made in a letter from Nanaimo chamber CEO Kim Smythe in response to a “circuit-breaker” lockdown announced Monday which ordered B.C. restaurants to shut down indoor dining and switch to take-out orders and patio dining. The order from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry was a response to rising numbers of detected COVID-19 cases.
Smythe’s letter includes suggestions from chamber executives across the province, who met online Tuesday. The suggestions say government should provide restaurant and pub owners with guidance on how to seek support and funding. There needs to be more clarity and notice given about upcoming changes to business operations, better communication about the decision-making process, and a call for a territorial or regional approach when considering industry-wide closures, chambers agree.
“Too many businesses, too many individuals, too many communities have been impacted by this thing in an extremely negative manner,” Smythe said.
His letter criticizes the closure directives given with little or no prior notice to restaurants, which must adjust staffing and supplies to limit financial impacts of the loss of business, especially heading into a holiday long weekend. He cited an example about a Nanaimo restaurant owner he spoke with who had just placed an $11,000 order for wine, plus a $10,000 order for fresh food to meet expected demand over the Easter weekend. Smythe said similar scenarios are playing out across the province and it’s not feasible for restaurants to recoup business by serving on outdoor patios.
“In B.C. we’re not in patio weather yet,” Smythe said. “We might get a couple of hours on an afternoon where you might get a plate on a deck someplace, but [some patios] seat four people … The whole message is don’t go out and eat or drink because that could be dangerous to your health, and that’s not a good message when you’re talking about people going to restaurants.”
Jane Ivens, owner of Nanaimo’s Coach and Horses pub as well as the Fox and Hounds in Ladysmith and the Black Goose Inn in Parksville, was in the middle of receiving a food order when she heard about the new restrictions.
“We’ve just got a huge order in that would see us through on staple products for at least four or five days,” she said. “Although we’ll do take-out, there’s no way we’re going to use that volume of food.”
A large part of the business is serving draft beers – something the pub can’t offer customers with take-out. On top of that, Ivens had to change staff schedules at each of her three restaurants and reduce hours for staff. She said that three weeks isn’t long enough for her employees to apply for employment insurance and doesn’t give them the opportunity to find work elsewhere.
The Coach and Horses has plenty of patio space, but Ivens worries that the weather may not co-operate with the early imposed patio season. Ivens estimated that her business will lose 75 per cent of its trade.
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Smythe said restaurants had already been operating under stress since being allowed to re-open under reduced capacity to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines and he questions why the restaurant industry is being targeted with repeated short-notice closures and restrictions, such as just before New Year’s and St. Patrick’s Day.
“Why this industry, in particular?” Smythe asks. “I’m shoulder-to-shoulder with people at the grocery store. Even if they keep reminding you to stay six feet apart, you’re still standing there buying bread and somebody comes up beside you and bumps into you and buys the loaf of bread next to you. I haven’t got COVID in 13 months from that, nor have I got it from going to restaurants occasionally, so why this industry and why is this industry getting hit like this repeat times with no consideration for the business community?”
Smythe also said the rules shouldn’t be applied equally across regions, pointing to places like the central Island and other areas of B.C. with comparatively fewer COVID cases.
Smythe said tens of thousands of pub and restaurant workers across the province living paycheque-to-paycheque or “tip jar-to-tip jar” are impacted by the closures and he is also concerned that the current three-week shutdown may be extended.
Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s chief medical health officer, told the News Bulletin at a press conference Wednesday that health authorities identified environments where there has been transmission, and felt there was an opportunity to make a difference as far as limiting the spread of the virus.
He noted that Henry has referenced a “balancing act” when issuing health orders, and he said decisions are informed by epidemiological principles and by the local experiences of health authorities.
“I’m sure there’s going to be no shortage of suggestions as to how [the orders] could be improved or how they should be removed,” Stanwick said. “So what we’ll have to do is just monitor to see the effectiveness of this.”
-with files from Cole Schisler/Ladysmith Chronicle and Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin