CANMORE — The tourism town of Canmore, hit hard by the effects of COVID-19, is slowly bouncing back.
As the province continues to reopen the economy, a handful of restaurants and bars surveyed by Great West Newspapers were feeling upbeat after a devastating spring.
"We were not expecting to be busy the first weekend, but we were," said Sylvie Gregoire, co-owner of Chez Francois, which opened its doors on June 5 after being closed for more than two months.
She credits the "locals here in Canmore with keeping us in business," adding that "people are so happy to be able to go out again."
Gregoire, who along with husband Jean-Francois Gouin have owned the eatery for 30 years, said the first day "was very emotional. It was like a new beginning."
The couple, who received a $40,000 loan through the federal government's Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) program, have managed to bring back most of the 15 staff – and outfitted them with colourful masks created by a local artist.
"We have hired almost all of them back. Some of them are part-time now," said Gregoire, adding the eatery is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week.
On the northside of town, owners of the Creekside Villa/Devil's Table establishment have been impressed with the customer response after staggered openings of the boutique hotel and restaurant.
"People are happy that we're back," said Carolyn Abrahamsson, who said she and co-owner husband Marcus also received the $40,000 CEBA loan. She said "we were having to turn people away" from the restaurant on the opening weekend.
"Traffic has been pretty steady at the hotel, which reopened May 18. We've had guests from Calgary and Edmonton," said Abrahamsson, who did admit "It will be a long road to recovery" as they were forced to cancel all 30 weddings at Creekside Villa in 2020.
The Abrahamssons, both full-time staffers, work with five other employees, down from 15 workers in 2019.
Abrahamsson said they are "feeling very optimistic. We're looking forward to welcoming more guests as the province slowly reopens."
Shortly after the pandemic hit Alberta, the reins of Tapas Canmore changed hands with noted local chef Tracy Little becoming the new owner.
"Tracy bought it in mid-March, renovated and hired all new staff," said manager Daniel 'Sully' Sullivan, adding the new-look downtown spot reopened May 15.
Including Little and Sullivan, a total of six staffers – all wearing patriotic Canadian flag masks – work at Tapas Canmore, which is open six days a week from 5 to 9:30 p.m.
Sullivan said the customer response has been impressive.
"We've been very surprised. We have been busy. People have been waiting to get in," he said.
Over on Railway Avenue, the Rose and Crown reopened on May 20 with a limited food and beer menu but that didn't discourage customers from returning, said Lisa Schaetzle, a manager and co-owner of the locally owned pub.
"Everyone is so grateful to be back," she said, "We have had a really good turnout. The locals are thrilled to see us open again."
All 15 staff at the pub were laid off in mid-March and "we managed to bring them all back," said Schaetzle.
Schaetzle said the ownership group received a $40,000 CEBA loan along with wage subsidy assistance from the federal government.
She said, "We are very hopeful going forward."
Despite the optimism, a recent business recovery survey for the hospitality industry conducted for the Town of Canmore showed the negative impact caused by COVID-19.
Of 84 respondents, about 20 per cent indicated they were considering permanent closure within the next two to six months, said Eleanor Miclette, the Town's economic development manager.
"We have had one permanent restaurant closure announced throughout the pandemic, and two restaurants that may not survive,” she said. “On the flip side, we have one new restaurant open up last week, and an application for a new food truck."
To enhance the downtown atmosphere and make it easier to accommodate physical distancing, Miclette said the town is closing Main Street to vehicular access as of Friday (June 12).
Miclette said she is hopeful that "collectively we can come along side our business community and support them to not just survive, but thrive."
Located 103 km west of Calgary, Canmore has a population of 16,273 and has no active COVID-19 cases.
Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to AlbertaPrimeTimes.com. This story was funded by the Facebook Journalism Project Supporting Local News Coverage of COVID-19 Program via the Local Media Foundation.