A popular Langdon pub and live music venue brought back in-person dining and performances on Sept. 23 following a temporary shut-down last week – the result of threatening messages the business owners received on social media after their decision to opt into the Alberta government’s vaccine passport program.
According to Firehouse Bar & Grill owner Greg Thompson, he suspended in-person dining on Sept. 21 for the safety of customers and staff, after he received a barrage of angry messages on social media.
He said the bar was host to several opinionated patrons in the week leading up to the government’s Sept. 16 announcement, which eventually culminated in threatening private messages. He added those messages have since been reported to RCMP.
“I want to be very clear that it was not a specific death threat, but it was as close to it as possible,” he said. “You don’t know what the capabilities of people are.”
Thompson said he doesn’t believe the threats came from a member of the tight-knit community of Langdon.
“The nice thing about operating a business in a small community is you are with your people every day,” he said. “It’s kind of like having your finger on the pulse of what’s going on.”
The decision to shutter the bar's doors gave Thompson some time to come to grips with the government’s Restrictions Exemption Program (REP), which requires businesses to request guests show proof of vaccination, a medical exemption letter, or a negative COVID-19 test prior to entering the establishment.
“We’ve kind of gotten ahead of things. Now we understand a little bit more of what our expectations are asking a customer coming in,” he said, adding the pub has since hired a security team to man the entrance.
According to Strathmore RCMP Staff Sergeant Mark Wielgosz, a referral or request for a criminal investigation has not been made at this time. Although, he urged others who are in a similar situation to speak up if they are fearful for their safety.
"There is pressure on businesses who are trying to figure out how to comply with these measures to do business," he said. "Generally speaking, we're supportive of our businesses – we want to ensure that they can still operate in a safe manner."
Wielgosz added member of the public who are frustrated with the restrictions are encouraged to lobby their elected officials rather than taking the matter up with local business owners.
"It's obviously not the local business's fault that they're trying to comply with the measures that have been imposed and certainly not the person or the employee who's only just trying to do their job," he said. "I would strongly encourage those who disagree, please don't take it out on the businesses. They're just trying to do what they need to do to make a living."
The bar owner said since the pandemic began, he has aligned himself with the government’s recommended health measures, which have included mandatory masking, social distancing, and closures, when necessary.
“[It was a time] when we didn’t completely understand everything,” he said. “But to be part of the solution and the greater good, we followed through with it and with no exception, we continue on with the [REP] as well that we are given the ability to continue on in business.”
Thompson added restaurants and bars have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and have been taking the brunt of both government health restrictions and disgruntled members of the public.
“We want to be part of the solution, not part of this divide that’s going on and seems to be growing,” he said. “We are so fortunate here in Langdon to have a business [in] an incredible community with compassion, heart, and a lot of goodwill.”
Thompson’s advice to others in the hospitality industry is to get as much education as possible to ensure they are equipped to operate during this time, and make tough decisions when needed.
“Make tough decisions for the greater good – that is something that we learned. We made tough decisions in the last couple years and maybe we haven’t agreed with them all,” he said. “You’ve got to be part of the bigger picture.”
He added exercising compassion, patience, and understanding can help to foster a good relationship with both staff and customers, and agreeing to disagree might be a big part of that.
“I can't stress enough that you should be patient with one another, maybe have a little bit more understanding whether you agree or not,” he said. “There’s still a lot of good out there. Look for that silver lining. I know we are getting bad days with it, but there’s an incredible amount of people out there and a lot of good things going on. Don’t lose sight.”
In addition, Thompson suggested reaching out to a local ombudsperson or government representative who is willing to help could be beneficial.
“The golden secret in hospitality is that you’re not going to have the ability to make everybody happy all the time, but to give yourself a really good chance to be successful is that you do what you do and do it the best to your ability and consistent with it,” he said. “Not only will that give you the ability to be successful, but for you to sleep well at night.”
Those who are interested in further updates regarding live performances are encouraged to visit Firehouse Bar & Grill’s facebook page.
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