Jeanette Mitten, owner of Once Again New and Consignment Boutique, is one of many business owners who are financially struggling this year. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Jeanette Mitten, owner of Once Again New and Consignment Boutique, is one of many business owners who are financially struggling this year. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Red Deer businesses hurting, wishing more customers before Christmas

‘People need to work to be able to spend’

Red Deer business owner Jeanette Mitten has gone through her savings and sold off two horses to try to stay afloat in 2020.

“I am so stressed out with these restrictions, don’t know what I’m going to do,” admitted the owner of Once Again New and Consignment Boutique in downtown Red Deer.

Weeks leading up to Christmas are supposed to be the most lucrative of the year for retailers. Yet customers are so scared of catching COVID-19, many of them are staying home, said Mitten.

Five “shopping parties” had been booked at her 48th Street store this month but had to be cancelled — even before Premier Jason Kenney banned all indoor gatherings and ordered retailers to reduce their customer capacity to 15 per cent to reduce viral spread.

Mitten said the women who had appointments to shop after hours had called in with concerns about potentially catching the virus.

Now such after-hours group shopping events have been forbidden under new provincial rules that ban all indoor and outdoor gatherings.

With so many central Albertans out of work, affordable consignment stores should be doing better, “but honestly, I don’t think buying clothes is a priority right now,” added Mitten.

The Swedish native has been in Canada for 30 years and plans to stick it out in hopes of finding some business relief in 2021.

It can’t be much worse, Mitten surmised, since she’s seeing only a handful of customers a days now. “I had one person in yesterday… there are no revenues…”

Similar concern is being expressed by other local business owners, who have been struggling under a dual burden of a pandemic on top of a provincial recession.

“People have forgotten that the economy was in critical condition before the pandemic began,” said Gareth Scott, co-owner of Fetch Haus, pet supplies.

He explained his store’s revenues have decreased every year since he bought the business in 2018. “This year we’ve taken the biggest hit yet. Business is down 30 to 40 per cent” from 2019, he added.

Whether people are buying less than premium pet food now, have surrendered their dogs to economize, or have left town to seek employment, all Scott knows is his list of dedicated clients has been whittled down.

Scott, who retired from the oilfield in 2017, believes the government has found “no clear path forward” in stimulating Alberta’s economy to fuel job creation.

“People need to work to be able to spend more. And they’ve got to go where the work is…”

To boost his store’s revenues, Scott has been expanding online services and products and is offering delivery, among various initiatives.

But although there’s been a positive push for buying local, he remains concerned about how many Red Deer-area merchants will survive this perfect storm of pandemic and poor economy.

“A lot of small businesses are shutting down and they aren’t going to be operating again,” he predicted.

This year hasn’t dealt a crushing blow to all local businesses, however. When it comes to significant jewelry purchases, people are still getting engaged, getting married and having anniversaries, said Curtis Phagoo, a custom designer with Red Deer Goldsmiths. He added there’s also been a steady trade in repairs and rings sizings.

While revenues at the jewelry store are down over last year, Phagoo said there were also some cost savings when the store wasn’t operational that helped mitigate losses.

And Red Deer Goldsmiths participated in a government loans program that was offered earlier this year to businesses affected by the spring lock down. It allowed a $30,000 repayment on a $40,000 loan.

It’s too early to predict Christmas sales — which started late this year, said Phagoo. But since many of the store’s clients are older and more established, he believes they might be less financially affected by the pandemic than younger demographics.

“We’ve had some of our clientele for 40 years, so maybe that age group is more stable.”

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