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COVID-19 has wide-ranging effect on local Westlock businesses

Butcher shop thriving, restaurants face challenging road to reopening

The meat has been moving out the front door of the Westlock Butcher Shop since the COVID-19 pandemic hit town in mid-March.

"Our business has more than tripled," said Paul Lanouette, co-owner/operator of the store at 9919 106 St.

"After the (High River) Cargill Plant shut down (due to a COVID-19 outbreak), people came in here and stocked up. We were swamped," said Lanouette, adding "we were so busy we had to close for two weeks to play catch-up."

Deemed an essential service, the food-supply outlet has remained open. Lanouette, who has two part-time staff, increased full-time staff from three to four to keep up with demand.

Lanouette, who buys his beef, pork and chicken from the Westlock area, has had no issues with supply during the surreal spring.  He added that out-of-province orders for fish and duck have also not been affected.

COVID-19 regulations issued by Alberta Health Services remain in place at the butcher shop, including hand sanitizers, social distancing and only one customer in the store at a time.

At the other end of the Westlock business spectrum is Apollo Pizza, scrambling back after being blindsided due to COVID-19 restrictions.

 "It has been a difficult road, but I'm in recovery mode now," said owner/operator David Truckey, who shifted from takeout/delivery service to a reopened restaurant on May 14. Full AHS protocols are in effect, including face masks for table servers and a maximum capacity of 50 per cent in the restaurant at 10915 104 Ave.

Truckey, who has owned Apollo for 25 years, said he was forced to lay off 15 of his 24 staff when the provincial state of emergency was declared on March 17.

 "We remained open and offered our takeout option and people jumped on that. Pizza and pasta are comfort food," he said, adding that customers are returning for dine-in service at Apollo, but some with reservations.

 "People are still hesitant to go out. That's what some of the customers said," said Truckey. "it might be too early."

 Truckey, who has rehired all but two of his employees, said he is exploring ways to access federal assistance due to losses caused by COVID-19.

“I'm looking at my options," said Truckey, adding he's pleased to be operating because some restaurants in Westlock remain closed.

Yeheng Li, owner/operator of the Country Cafe Chinese restaurant, said he closed his doors on March 17 and laid off his lone employee.

 When provincial regulations were relaxed on May 19, Li returned to work and reopened for takeout business only.

 "Business has been not bad, but I'm still affected," said Li, who now works alone at the 10728 101 St. eatery.

 Asked if he will be looking for federal assistance, Li said, "I want to."

Westlock Mayor Ralph Leriger agreed that COVID-19 has had a wide-ranging effect on local businesses.

"The food services businesses have been doing very well, while the restaurants and bars have been hit very hard," said Leriger, adding we have worked closely with the local chamber of commerce to facilitate funding through stimulus packages.”  

He said businesses can apply for funding through the federal government's Regional Relief and Recovery Fund, which is being administered through Community Futures.

The mayor of the town of 5,100 – 92 km northwest of Edmonton – said stay-at-home projects appeared to increase during the spring shutdown.

"There has been a real trend toward home renovation projects," said Leriger.

The manager of one of three hardware stores in town confirmed sales increased from March through to May.

 "It was slow in March, but it's been pretty steady after that. We have been especially busy with cleaning supplies and masks," said Ali Jamaly, manager of Tru Hardware, 9948 107 Street.

 "The month of May we have done very well. Better than previous years," said Jamaly.

On the health front, a total of two cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the County of Westlock, which has a population of 7,220. AHS reports that both cases have recovered.

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.




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