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Retailers and Restaurants Hope for Much Needed Boost with Calgary Stampede Launch this Week: Interviews

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With Alberta now open for business as public COVID-19 measures are gone, retailers and restaurant owners are hoping the return of the Calgary Stampede will give business the much-needed boost it has desperately hoped for during the pandemic of the past year or so.

“The food service and retail sectors of the Calgary economy are locked and loaded for a robust reboot that will be triggered by the 2021 Calgary Stampede,” said Michael Kehoe, broker of Fairfield Commercial Real Estate in Calgary. “Traditionally the 10-day Stampede period has been a sales bonanza for local stores and restaurants and this year is expected to provide some much-needed momentum after the disaster of the 2020 lockdown.

Michael Kehoe

“Expectations are being kept in check as the lack of corporate spending and tourist-oriented visitors that will be missed on the bottom line this year. Local and regional Stampeders will be left to drive the footfall and sales numbers. Food service venues are busy ramping up staffing levels and many are booking live entertainment as customers hopefully flock back to their favourite watering holes to socialize and celebrate. 

“Stampede 2021 is an important milestone in the re-opening process of the Calgary economy and will serve as a vote of confidence for consumers to return to their pre-pandemic shopping and dining patterns.”

For businesses, the past week has been a good one as things start getting back to normal after a tumultuous and challenging year. On July 1, the province officially lifted practically all the mandatory restrictions in place to fully combat the spread of COVID, including capacity numbers for establishments as well as the requirement to wear face masks. The City of Calgary kept the mandatory face mask bylaw in place, however, until Monday when that too was repealed.

Image: Calgary Stampede

The Stampede is back after being cancelled last year. It officially runs July 9-18.

That’s welcome news for the hospitality industry which has been devastated in the past year or so.

Ernie Tsu, President of the Alberta Hospitality Association and owner of the Trolley 5 establishment in Calgary, said the opening up of the province on July 1 has meant everything for the industry.

“It’s now been able to give restaurants that didn’t have patios, or very small patios, a chance to work themselves out of debt and to try to stay alive,” said Tsu.

“I think the Stampede is important for the industry and the public in general. It’s that punch in the arm that the city needs coming out of this last 14 months, the pandemic. That sense of return to normalcy. For the restaurant industry it’s amazing just to see people back out again with such strong support of all their local restaurants and pubs.”

Tsu said the industry hopes the reopening of the province and the Stampede kick starts the turnaround for many businesses in the city.

“It’s going to take 18 months to recover but the next few months will be the first step,” he said.

“As a born and raised Calgarian, I’m looking forward to the Stampede and being able to have a little bit of that sense of normalcy again.”

Image: Calgary Stampede

Michael Holden, Vice President of Policy and Chief Economist at the Business Council of Alberta, said the reopening of the province is huge for retailers, restaurants and small business owners.

Mike Holden

“It’s something that businesses have been looking forward to for a long time. It’s a solid step towards getting back to normal. Everybody welcomes that step and welcomes this move towards progressing to fully reopening. Even though things are open it’s going to take a while for things to get back to normal. Some people will still be reluctant to head out. It’s not as if everything is going to suddenly, magically turn back into what it was like pre-COVID. I think there will be a more gradual process. There’s going to be bumps along the way. Whether it’s businesses trying to staff up and get the people they need or whether it’s individuals being fully willing to go out to restaurants and bars and into stores in general. But we’re on our way,” said Holden.

“The Stampede is the kind of shot in the arm that a lot of businesses have been counting to help them be able to get back on their feet again. We’re not going to see a Stampede like we did two years ago or prior to that. It’s going to be more subdued for sure partly because of the lack of international visitors and there will be some reluctance by some people to come out but others are going to be more than happy to come out. That extra push, that little bump in social activity in bars and restaurants is exactly what those businesses are going to need to help themselves start digging out of the challenges that they’ve been facing all this time.”

Deborah Yedlin, President and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said the reopening of business in Alberta and the upcoming Stampede is a note of optimism for the city after what it has been through.

Deborah Yedlin

“The fact that we’re being able to do it as a safe event and certainly there are measures that are being put in place for people who decide to go to the grounds and partake in the events on the Stampede grounds. But also I’m hearing a lot of conversations about ‘oh I’m going to have a Stampede party in my backyard’. That means we’re supporting local entrepreneurs in terms of the service sector which has been so devastated,” said Yedlin.

“But broadly speaking you know we’re looking at more than $280 million of economic impact that the Stampede has on Calgary every year and local businesses are a big part of that. Whether you’re an Uber driver or you’re a caterer or you’re selling water on the grounds, I mean there’s just so many pieces to this. They’re so important. And also the local retailers that supply us with Stampede clothing. There’s so much that goes into supporting local business in terms of Stampede. It’s critical.

“People have to regain a level of comfort for being out and this could be a very good way to sort of break that mindset of everyone having been inside and not really interacting as they have for the last 16 months.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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