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Downtown is home to over 200 restaurants and eateries, all of which are under threat by the COVID-19 emergency.  (Maya Abdallah)

Will the food scene survive?

Downtown restaurants are fighting to stay alive
through the rapidly changing COVID-19 emergency
By Sarah Spisak

RESTAURANTS IN Edmonton were already feeling the hit from the slow season that naturally comes after the Christmas rush, but that slump is continuing, and even worsening, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has caused a significant disruption to those dependent on walk-ins and other use by patrons,” said Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association. “It’s still too early to know, but we are seeing impacts, pre-emptive temporary closures and a material drop in sales.”

According to data from OpenTable, an online reservation system, bookings for Edmonton restaurants are 46 per cent lower than they were this time last year, and City Centre eateries are feeling the pain.

“Sales have definitely seen a large decrease,” said Addison Reid, senior sous chef at Cactus Club Café on Jasper Avenue. “This week, we’re expecting to see the biggest decrease in sales, but it’s all uncertain as to what this week will bring with all the new announcements.”

On March 16, Cactus Club announced via social media that all dining rooms would be closed until March 31, and that food will only be available for take-out or delivery. An email obtained by The Magpie announced that all hourly employees would be temporarily laid off, so they could apply for employment insurance.

Cactus Club Café announced dining room closures via Facebook on March 16.  (Facebook)

The Downtown Business Association also issued a statement March 16, announcing the cancellation of Downtown Dining Week, which was scheduled to take place until March 22, and help bring business into the city core. Forty-five downtown restaurants were meant to take part.

“While we are cancelling the remainder of this year’s event, we are still encouraging you to support downtown restaurants and the many other businesses in our community that remain open,” the statement said. “Consider socially responsible ways to continue your support and ensure that we assist those business owners and their employees in these uncertain times.”

While larger chain restaurants are expected to survive the next few months of uncertainty, owners of smaller businesses are worried and uncertain about their future.

“We’ve never lived through anything like this,” said Louis Hamel, co-owner of Careit Urban Deli on 102nd Ave. and 104th St. “No one’s coming out. We’re cutting labour, but no money is coming in.

“I’m worried that it will come down to us having to close everything for two weeks. Our margins are already so thin that, if that happens, we will have to ask the government for money.”

Hamel is thinking of implementing online ordering and free delivery to anyone over 65 as a way to help customers and still bring in business.

People are being encouraged to support local businesses in the city by purchasing gift cards for later use or purchasing food for take-out and delivery.

“Keep connected,” O’Donnell said. “Let’s get through this together.”

Signs at Careit Urban Deli urge people to be conscious about what they are touching.  (Careit)\
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