Reg Warkentin

Many Red Deer businesses change, innovate to survive the pandemic

It’s about ‘necessity being the mother of invention,’ says chamber official

With movie theatres out-of-action due to the latest pandemic restrictions, Red Deer’s Carnival Cinemas is offering popcorn delivery to make at-home entertainment more of a special event.

Other COVID-weary business are diversifying their offerings or planning special promotions to attract more customers.

Sunworks Living opened a lunch counter and added sandwiches and curry to its selection of cards and gift items, while Fetch Haus pet supplies is giving health workers an appreciative freebie for their dogs — as well as the chance to win golf packages.

Reg Warkentin, policy and government relations manager for the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce, said local entrepreneurs have no choice but to be creative in these tough, COVID-19-stricken times.

“It’s pretty much a provincial decree that businesses can’t operate traditionally” because of government-imposed restrictions, Warkentin added. “What’s that saying? …About necessity being the mother of invention…?”

A recent poll by the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce showed one in five businesses might not survive the latest pandemic restrictions. More than half of business owners said they were taking in substantially less revenue, and four in 10 businesses had laid off staff since the beginning of the pandemic.

Related:

-Businesses near breaking point, according to survey

-Local businesses wish for more customers before Christmas

Warkentin believes out-of-the box thinking has become a crucial survival tool for businesses that are increasingly strained by COVID-19 rules and a recessed economy.

For example, many local restaurants, including Bo’s Bar and Stage and Earls, were forced to substantially change their business models in December to offer more take-out service while in-person dining was prohibited by the province.

“It was a lot of work, and they had to do it quickly,” added Warkentin.

Last year, the Baymont by Wyndham inn (formerly Red Deer Lodge) opted to convert some unneeded hotel space into apartments.

And several local uniform manufacturers — including The Coverall Shop and IFR Workwear — switched to producing personal protective equipment for health care workers during the pandemic when their oilfield orders slowed.

More recently, Carnival Cinemas owner Bill Ramji had to think innovatively after his theatre was shut down on Dec. 14 by a provincial ban on indoor gatherings. Before that, it ran at only a third capacity because physical distancing guidelines.

Ramji said he welcomes the revenue generated by the Thursday to Sunday sales of popcorn, drinks and candy (that can be ordered from Carnival’s website and delivered to homes or picked up curb-side). But he also feels this service allows Carnival Cinema to continue connecting with people in the community.

“This serves the public well, and also shows people that we appreciate them.”

Some of the new business ideas spring from past experience. For instance, Sunworks Living owner Paul Harris said he knew from running the now closed Coconut Room restaurant that some people really missed its fare.

With the pandemic limiting gift store traffic, he decided to diversify his retail business by opening a lunch counter inside the shop that offers some of these popular food items.

“We needed multiple streams of income, so if people aren’t shopping for gifts they can pick up some fresh bread, or something for lunch,” Harris added.

Fetch Haus co-owner Janet Scott said her businesses isn’t as hard-hit by the pandemic as many. But as a former nurse, she wanted to show appreciation to busy health care workers as well think of a way to boost in-store traffic.

Scott came up with a free doggy gift bag promotion for health workers and first responders, as well as the March 1 draw they can enter to win one of two golfing package donated by Alberta Springs.

She believes it’s generating great word-of mouth buzz, as well as bringing more people through the doors.

The Downtown Business Association is also trying something different in these tough times.

Executive-director Amanda Gould said she’s using part of a $13,000 Travel Alberta grant to run videos about Red Deer offerings on three popular Alberta blogs, including Red Deer Eats.

While YYC Food Junkie and Let’s Eat YEG are in Calgary and Edmonton, Gould believes Red Deer’s unique eateries, including Tribe and Occam’s Razor, are worth a trip to central Alberta.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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