By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Published 10:45 Nov 04, 2021

Small and medium-sized businesses in the South Peace are being encouraged to look for some relief through the province’s grant of $2,000 for those who have implemented the Restriction Exemption Program (REP).

The grant will help businesses with the costs incurred due to implementing the program, said Sexsmith and District Chamber of Commerce president Jennifer Ireson.

Businesses have to create procedures and policies for their employees and need to find ways to ensure that everyone is up to date as things change as well, she explained.  

It has been over a month since the province’s REP was rolled out and much of the implementation lies with front-line workers.

“If they don’t implement this, in a lot of cases, the business will end up having to lay off staff or close their doors,” said Ireson.

Some local businesses have said that implementing the REP had added difficulties, with some customers refusing to follow the rules.

The Grand Marshal Inn restaurant was closed in late September due to their patrons becoming hostile with staff over the provincial requirements, said Sairah Chabot, assistant manager at the restaurant.

They laid off most of their staff, she said, but added they have plans to open the restaurant again from Friday to Sunday.

“We’re going to give it a try and hope that we see people being kinder to one another,” said Chabot.

For those businesses soldiering on to keep their doors open, there have been additional financial challenges due to the costs of having masks, hand sanitizer, and additional cleaning , according to Ireson.

“That all adds up, it may seem like pennies but when you start to add it up over the cost of the year, it can really be prohibitive for a lot of small businesses,” she said.

The supply of equipment and other products have also become an issue for local businesses.

“If a restaurant is trying to get a part for one of their mixers or a fryer, it could take weeks at this moment to get those parts in, so it’s definitely having an impact on businesses,” said Ireson.

Business owners and employees feel the stress of the additional workload.

“Employers have no idea from day to day if they’re going to be open, next week, next month if there’s going to be restrictions coming in again,” said Ireson.

“I know a lot of businesses are concerned.”

In Hythe, Grand Marshal’s Chabot agrees. “Everything is done day by day because we never know what’s going to happen.”

As of Oct. 25, establishments using the REP will only accept fully vaccinated individuals unless they are under the age of 12 or provide a recent negative COVID test.

The province has created an app to help front line workers check vaccination proof by scanning a QR code.

In addition to the $2,000 grant, the province said a training grant will be available to industry associations to help develop and procure training for workers as they face challenges due to implementing REP.

Ireson is excited for the training grants because she said messages are easily mixed up with the many changes over the course of the pandemic. 

Supporting local businesses has become more important to consumers, she said.

“The rural communities especially have been doing a great job of supporting rural businesses,” she said.

“Supporting a small business in our local communities means that our neighbour has a job and that neighbour is able to stay in our community.”

“It’s bigger than just, you know, I don’t want to put on a mask; it’s supporting your neighbours,” said Ireson.

This item is reprinted with permission from Town & Country News.

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