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Central Alberta small businesses are impacted by covid-19 in varying ways but remain hopeful

Businesses in Bentley and Gull Lake say now it is more important than ever to shop local
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Local stores have been impacted in varying ways since the start of the pandemic. However, small town Alberta remains hopeful, welcoming, safe and a great place to shop.

“The new covid-19 restrictions have impacted the amount of people in the store,” says Merry Kuchle, owner of Merry’s Mercantile, ocated in Bentley.

She says some customers initially refused to wear a mask but there is less push back with recent regualtion changes.

“There have been some instances where we ask customers to put on their mask and they leave,” Kuchle said.

She is finding a lot of customers are coming to her store from the larger cities and towns to shop.

“People say they feel safer shopping in small towns as opposed to the larger cities,” said Kuchle.

“They come from the larger cities to shop without feeling crowded, rushed and unsafe.”

Kuchle says shoppers can support small businesses like hers by visiting small towns and looking around in the their own backyard. She also added being nice to the retail people helps support small businesses as well.

“Support them with your dollars and kindness when you come out and visit the small towns.”

Bentley is a town of roughly 1,000 people, but there are a number of great boutiques and unique shops, including a kite store.

Harries plains that her store is a mixture of new and old. She has antiques and new things as well.

“The Town of Bentley has a flower shop, a coffee shop and lots of little things that make a great afternoon to shop in a small town that is very welcoming,” said Kuchle.

Bud Taylor, owner of Kite Guys, has seen an impact on his mobile business over the last year.

“My mobile business has been impact because of all the covid restrictions… I have been stuck indoors,” Taylor said.

Taylor says 25 per cent of his business comes from events and festivals that have been cancelled.

He says he has a 30-foot trailer that he takes out to events to set up kites.

“About two dozen events have been cancelled due to the pandemic,” said Taylor.

Taylor wants folks in Alberta to know that they have “discovered the fountain of youth in Bentley” and you can rediscover your youth by flying a kite.

Other small businesses have been impacted in other ways. Myrna Harris, owner of Country Stitches, says she has seen less foot traffic to her store in the last year.

“We haven’t had any bus tours since 2019 and shop pop groups,” said Harris.

“We have been lucky enough to have an online presence. So, that helped us out.”

Harris says she would be attending quilting retreats to sell products but she has been unable to do that too. Normally, the store would host their own quilting retreats twice a year, but the restrictions have made that impossible to do right now.

“I guess one of the pros to being online through COVID is that we have been able to increase our online presence. We have shipped across the country, every province, and territories,” said Harris.

“We have had the support of Canadians through our online shopping”

Shelia Kelba-Warawa, owner of Queen Bee Clothing, says her business hasn’t been that impacted by the pandemic, but her personal life has been.

Her daughter is medically fragile and under personal care, but due to the pandemic Kelba-Warawa has not been able to see her.

“I have had to ensure that all COVID-19 restrictions are followed. Such as wiping down the store,” says Kelba - Warana.

She says that we all can support small businesses by buying local goods and services.

“We just built a brand new patio. We were hoping to use it. Now we can’t use it,” says Christine Luymes, one of the owners of The Wooden Shoe Store and Coffee Shop in Gull lake.

Normally the attraction would be in the process of hiring summer hires but due to all the uncertainty they have been unable too.

“We haven’t been able to hire summer students and start training,” says Luymes. “There is just so much uncertainty”

She says her staff scheduling has been really difficult since the pandemic. Overall she says it’s been hard for everyone.

Recently the Wooden Shoe held a fundraising campaign for a local family that lost everything in a fire. The response from the community was good.

“That’s the one good news from COVID, the [increased] sense of community.”