Recent provincial health orders have hit Trail restaurants and pubs and their patrons hard, yet, many are adapting while others have had little choice but to close their doors.
On March 31, in an effort to curtail a third COVID wave, the PHO instituted a “circuit breaker” that effectively shut down pubs and restaurants to indoor dining.
“I was absolutely surprised by it,” said Trail Coffee Co. owner/operator Maddie Van Horn. “It completely came out of left field. We were running as usual on Monday, and at 2 p.m. I found out I wasn’t allowed to open the next day.”
Van Horn had just placed a large order in preparation for Easter weekend, so the news for her and other establishments in Trail to close was another shock.
Late Tuesday the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association posted notice that in-restaurant dining will be likely be extended through to May due to a spike in COVID cases.
After almost returning to normal hours, the Arlington Bar and Grill shut its doors momentarily, but is back in business with a new and improved patio.
Restaurants like the Trail Beer Refinery, Pinos, Bridge View Cafe and Kootenay Kabob adapted and are offering limited patio space and take-out, while others like Cafe Americano, Cafe Michael and The Colander are providing take-out only service.
Some have remained closed since the onset of the pandemic.
A veteran of the original shutdown, Van Horn pivoted quickly and with the help of Chinook Scaffolding set up a spacious outdoor patio festooned with colourful flowers and greenery to accommodate guests, ensure safety protocols and keep her cafe open.
“This time around it was a little bit easier to get things going,” said Van Horn. “I knew they were letting patios be allowed, so I immediately called the city and asked them. They actually have a policy in place for the city to do it, which I feel like nobody really knew about, so it was like this undiscovered gem that I found.”
When the pandemic first hit, it took time for businesses to adapt. Van Horn astutely created an online website for her free coffee delivery service, merchandised her product, and innovated – creating her own chocolate-coffee bark, while promoting her hand roasted, hand blended, and hand packaged coffee beans along with the bold and edgy tagline “Bad coffee sucks!”
“It took me a little while to get in the groove and figure out how I was going to overcome this,” said Van Horn. “I’m a bit of a bleeding heart – it’s hard for me to close up my doors and send everyone home and say I don’t know when I’m going to see you. So the patio was just a good option for all of us.”
Some welcome news also arrived this week, when the province announced that businesses can apply for the Circuit Breaker Business Relief Grant. Funding can range from $1,000 to $10,000 and awarded to businesses of any size.
Yet for Trail and District Chamber director Erika Krest, Greater Trail businesses shouldn’t have to suffer through these shutdowns when the number of regional COVID cases are relatively slight.
“We are requesting that the province strongly considers taking a regional approach to COVID-19 restrictions so that areas that are not being severely impacted by the increase in COVID cases are not put under the same restrictions as areas that have been harder hit.”
As of Apr. 8, Kootenay Boundary has recorded 288 cases since Jan. 2020. Although there has been a modest increase in recent weeks, Trail’s number sits at 31 cases over that same time.
Krest would like to see clarity on what new restrictions mean to the longevity of current business supports and subsidy programs and also urges the province to give businesses adequate notice when restrictions are put in place to allow them to prepare their business and staff for further lay-offs and cutbacks.
As sole proprietor Van Horn hasn’t been able to access most of the relief funding that the provincial and federal governments have offered. She was relieved to find Trail Coffee Co. is eligible for the current grant, however, the circuit breaker relief won’t come close to covering the losses she and other service industry owners have suffered.
“I think it’s going to be a long haul to get back to any kind of normal,” she said. “I think the financial hardships business owners will struggle with for years, myself included. I had a five-year plan when I bought this place and now it’s a 10-year plan. And there is nothing you can do about that.”