Calgarians gingerly revel in new freedoms
`It's a rebirth,' says nightclub owner as city opens up slowly in pandemic era
Nightclub owner Mike Clark said he can't help blowing his own horn about possibly reaching the pandemic's finish line.
The musician will celebrate by blasting audiences with his saxophone stylings in rooms allowed to be at full capacity, as COVID -19 public health restrictions came to an end on Thursday.
“I'm double-vaxxed and ready for sax,” said Clark, who owns Mikey's on 12th.
“It's a rebirth — like Christmas or your birthday — it's been a long time.”
The prospect of shedding the virus's shackles has conjured its own challenges, such as finding musicians to fill his stage, said Clark.
“It's been hard finding players because, all of a sudden, everyone's busy,” said Clark.
“But it's a good problem to have,” he added.
While the UCP government has lifted a mask mandate covering indoor public spaces, Calgary city council has chosen to hold off on the move, opting to revisit the question on Monday.
That's not sitting well with Clark, particularly amid the recent record-breaking temperatures of a stubborn heat wave.
But for Kate Argyl, enjoying drinks and lunch on the patio of the Crowfoot Brewster's Brewing Company, council's decision maintains a comfort zone.
“They don't affect the economy,” said Argyl, adding she's still unwilling to dine indoors.
Thursday's lunchtime trip is only the woman's second such outing since the pandemic's start nearly 16 months ago, but for all her caution, Argyl said the tumbling COVID-19 numbers and eased restrictions are reason to celebrate.
“It's wonderful to be out,” she said.
At the nearby Joey Crowfoot restaurant, service manager Kendall Bury was still donning a protective mask but said the arrival of Alberta's Phase 3 brought hope for stability after months of uncertainty.
“It's so nice to welcome people back ... it's been a huge roller-coaster so we're happy to get some normalcy back,” said Bury, as diners on the eatery's patio sat next to Plexiglas dividers.
Those won't be coming down any time soon, she said.
“We know there are still people who are going to be a bit uncomfortable,” said Bury.
She noted restaurants are still plugging some staff holes left after many employees frustrated with the pace of reopening drifted off to new opportunities.
“There's been a little bit of short-staffing but there are people looking for jobs right now, too,” said Bury.
Premier Jason Kenney attended a Canada Day party in southeast Calgary on Thursday morning where he hailed an end to public health restrictions, saying “a new day dawns.”
“This is a fantastic day for Alberta. We have crushed COVID -19 and with cases plummeting and vaccine uptake climbing, we are open for summer,” the premier said in a statement.
“With vaccines on our side, businesses can once again thrive, and Albertans can get back to their normal lives. Together, thanks to the sacrifices made by Albertans, we have made it through this terrible time.”
In a 4-1 vote on Wednesday, Banff town council opted to join the province in rescinding mask mandates, a move that took effect Thursday.
On Tuesday in her final scheduled COVID-19 news conference, the province's top doctor said the virus's threat remains and that while the province's reopening should be safe, COVID-19 should still be taken seriously.
“COVID-19 is not going away completely,” said Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“It remains serious and we need to respect it.”
The effects of the pandemic continue to linger despite the watershed day, said Jeff Hanna, manager of the Barcelona Tavern at 501 8th Ave. S.W.
Confusion remains over masking protocol and too many tables remain empty, he said.
“Today, we did 40 per cent of what I used to do — we haven't turned the corner yet as far as sales go,” he said.
Downtown vacancy rates and a work-from-home culture have severely cut into sales, said Hanna.
But the restaurateur said he expects a sea-change in the downtown's fortunes by September, buoyed by higher oil prices and a pandemic that should be well back in Albertans' rear-view mirrors.
For now, the simple act of laying out his tavern's tables in a cosier, pre-pandemic fashion brings its own satisfaction.
“I'm putting my old floor plan back together after measuring every table to be six feet apart for so long,” said Hanna.