The Arcadia Café in Beiseker opened its doors to customers Jan. 27, joining a growing list of small businesses in Alberta that are defying public health orders and business restrictions.
According to Joanne Diaz, who owns the café along 6 Street in the village's downtown, the decision to open was a matter of her business’ survival.
“We either had to open or close our doors for good,” she said. “It was coming down to where we would lose everything we’ve got. I’ve put a lot into this café.
"Yesterday, we did $80 [in sales] and the day before, we did $84. That’s not going to cut it.”
Diaz said the café will likely be issued a fine for defying the Alberta government’s current restrictions, which limit restaurants to operating under delivery and pick-up business models. Beiseker RCMP officers attended the café in the morning Jan. 27, according to Diaz, notifying her the business would likely be issued a ticket if she continued to offer dine-in service.
She claimed takeout was not working, and the business was not making enough in revenue to support its bottom line.
“Rural Alberta doesn’t have Skip the Dishes or the other delivery services that everyone else has,” she said.
"My utility bills are over $1,000 a month, just for gas and electricity – not including water or anything else. With $80 a day, I’m not even going to be able to pay my staff.”
Arcadia Café’s reopening comes as other business owners in small Alberta towns rebel against government mandates. In Bonnyville, Jennie’s Diner and Bakery opened its doors Jan. 27 "in protest of the government shutting us down until further notice, while other businesses are allowed to be open,” according to the Bonnyville Nouvelle.
Elsewhere, the Whistle Stop Café in the Central Alberta hamlet of Mirror has also contravened public health orders by offering in-person dining, while the Bladez to Fadez barbershop in Innisfail made headlines recently for refusing to abide by a verbal closure order by Alberta Health Services.
Diaz said she feels the Alberta government's announcement on Jan. 22 that public health orders would remain in place for the foreseeable future was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many business owners.
“It’s coming down to whether you open to survive or you die,” she said. “There’s no other choice here. Our biggest nights are $400 – that’s not going to pay the bills.”
She said she knows of only one case of COVID-19 in Beiseker, which originated from a class at Beiseker Community School.
“I think we’re all adults and we’re old enough to take risks,” she said. “From what I understand, there hasn’t been a child die of COVID-19. Most of the people who die of COVID-19 were all over 80. We’re all able to determine for ourselves what is best for us.”
Despite potential repercussions, Diaz vowed she will continue to offer dine-in service this week. She said customers on Jan. 27 – some of whom travelled to Beiseker from as far away as Sundre and Strathmore – said they were pleased the business was open.
“We’re staying open for dine-in or we’re closing,” she said. “If this doesn’t work, we’ll close and we’ll be no better off than before.”
Beiseker RCMP could not be reached for comment before the Rocky View Weekly's deadline.
According to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, businesses that defy restrictions are subject to fines of $1,000 per ticketed offence, which can rise to $100,000 through the court system. During her daily briefings, she has pleaded with businesses to comply with public health restrictions, arguing that not doing so can potentially increase the number of COVID-19 cases in their communitty..
"Business owners who choose to reopen despite our current restrictions are increasing the number of close contacts that are happening in their community, possibly making it harder for other business owners if that means restrictions need to stay in place for longer," she said back on Jan. 13. I
It was a message she reiterated nearly two weeks later.
"Until our hospitalization rates come down like our other numbers, we need to continue with the measures in place," she said on Jan. 25. "I know this isn’t easy – especially for those whose businesses and work have been impacted – but it’s necessary given the continued strain on our health care system.
"As soon as it’s safe to recommend the easing of any restrictions, we will do so. Until then, we need to continue to follow all the measures in place."