DIDSBURY - A virtual town hall meeting co-hosted by the Town of Didsbury and the Didsbury and District Chamber of Commerce on March 3 heard local business owners outline some of the many impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their respective operations.
The second town hall held in the past two weeks, the meeting was held to garner information and collect comments to be forwarded to government and to seek solutions to the challenges.
Mayor Rhonda Hunter called local businesses a vital part of the town’s economic and social well-being.
“Please know that you have the support of the entire community behind you,” said Hunter. “We care about our local businesses. You are the pillars and foundation of our successful and thriving community, and a very important part of what makes Didsbury so special.”
Kyle Turner, the vice-president of the chamber of commerce, co-hosted the meeting with Hunter.
As well as town councillors and chamber representatives, a dozen businesses took part in the meeting.
Kathleen Windsor, owner of Windsor Graphics, said the company suffered a marked decline in business at the beginning of the pandemic, with things improving by the end of the year.
i“In the spring of 2020 we suffered, three and a half months of big decline in business as our clients suffered with their own management of the pandemic,” said Windsor. “We are totally looking forward with hope to a successful 2021 business year.”
Dave Waiting, owner of Heck Electric Inc. said the pandemic results in a marked decline in revenue for his company.
Shopping local is now vital for companies in the community, he said.
“I thank everybody who shops and supports local. I think that is very, very important,” said Waiting. “That’s what community spirit is all about.”
“At the beginning of COVID I had five employees, local and living in the community. By the end of May it was me and that was it.
Cindy Tippe, with REMAX/ACA Realty, also called for residents and business owners to shop locally.
“I known that people are really challenged, but people are also digging really trying to dig deep to figure out what they can do to keep things going,” said Tippe. “I think when there are challenges small towns really pull together.”
Beverly Devolin Zwart said the pandemic has caused not only financial challenges in the community but mental health concerns as well.
“It’s become an issue of mental health for a lot of people,” she said. “People have been strong for so long and they are not doing well anymore.”
Land and business developer James Carpenter called for stakeholders to lobby for a regional approach to re-opening.
“We have to be leaders and take back a strategy that works for our community,” said Carpenter.
He also called for the town to waive tax penalties for local businesses.
Businesses that took part in the town hall also included Prairie Whistle Food Co., Stewarts Bee’s, Vintage Coffee Bar, Renaissance Cafe/International Grill, Fashions on Main, Westbound Outdoors, and Tyler Brooks Co.
In 2020 the Town of Didsbury spent $1.7 million on local contracts and purchases, said Mayor Hunter.
Ethan Gorner, the town's chief administrative officer, said the town has instituted an administrative internal directive to all staff that any purchases made at any business outside of Didsbury requires authorization from his office.
Coun. Erhart Poggemiller said he “admires the way people have been able to endure through this (pandemic). It takes a lot of stamina to pursue this and it takes a lot of willpower and sacrifice personally to maintain a business today.
“Tonight was a great night for a lot of information and something we can really look at. We can work together to come up with some resolutions. I would encourage people to come forward if they have ideas.”
Town council is scheduled this week to review the notes collected at the recent town halls before forwarding them to the province.
The central Alberta mayors groups will be meeting with area MLAs to discuss COVID challenges and push for a regional approach to re-opening, Hunter said.