Alberta businesses are beginning to choose if they opt in for Alberta’s Restriction Exemption Program (REP) and owners and staff say so far it has been it has been a mixed bag of responses from their customers.
Opting in to the REP means that a business or organization will require proof of vaccination or a negative test result from their customers.
“It’s not about taking a political stance it’s about keeping the team and community safe,” Cilantro and Chive owner Riley Kay says. He has roughly 100 staff among his businesses and says he’s thinking about their safety and financial situations after four waves of COVID restrictions.
His restaurants have decided to go with REP, requiring vaccination proof or a negative COVID test.
“The climate of politics is divided and regardless of whichever decision you make, you will receive some kind of backlash,” says Lane Tomalty, owner of Copper Lane hair studios in Lacombe and Red Deer. “It has been a tumultuous 19 months and every time there is some kind of announcement we get some kind of backlash.”
She says shortly after REP was announced it came out that salons were not part of the businesses eligible for the program but things were still a bit unclear.
Kay and Tomalty both say the vague information coming from the government has not made it any easier and that the expectation of them and their staff to enforce the rules is a bit unfair.
“Being a small business owner I never ever thought I’d be making this kind of a decision for the health and safety of our staff and our clients. Or that I would be the voice and make these decisions for our clients,” says Tomalty. “We’re not equipped and we’re not completely sure what we’re doing.”
Although Tomalty’s salons are not part of REP, due to changing guidelines from the government, she was considering it, but was conflicted when it came to the privacy of her clients.
Painted Earth in Lacombe also made the decision to not go with REP for that reason.
“We’ve decided to go this route simply because it’s none of our business, there’s a privacy act for a reason. Customers have been pretty receptive so far and the support has kept us going but there’s obviously been a few who will try to burn us down,” the studio says.
For the most part the business owners have not had too many problems from customers.
“There have been a few customers asking for clarity and insight into our choice, but we always welcome the opportunity for open discussion. Having opposing view points isn’t a bad thing,” says Carina Moran of Sweet Capone’s Italian Bakery and Cannoli Shop.
They have also decided not to ask for vaccination proof and instead have closed their in-person dinning for the time being.
“Our staff are being treated kindly and with respect. We have wonderful customers,” says Moran. “That having been said, kindness goes both ways and our staff understands that any frustration and anger directed at them speaks to a deeper issue. They don’t take it personally and have a great deal of compassion for the way people are feeling out there right now.”
Kay agrees, even though he did receive some negative backlash online and over the phone regarding the choice to opt into the program. He says for him, the negative comments are from a ‘small, very vocal minority’ and like other businesses and groups he’s just trying to do what is best for everyone involved and hopes that customers can be understanding and work with staff to get through the next few weeks.
Businesses have been doing what they can to keep their social media updated so customers are prepared when they come in but the biggest message businesses want to drive home is just to be patient, regardless of the decision the business has made.
“We do our best to communicate with our clients what we need from them when coming in for appointments,” adds Tomalty. “We’re just asking clients to be kind. It sounds cheesy but it’s true lately.”
Businesses have a few options when it comes to checking someone’s vaccination status. Right now, there are several options patrons can use to prove vaccination status, a paper immunization record received at immunization appointments, records shown from MyHealth Records app or website or a printable card from MyHealth Records app or www.alberta.ca/covidrecords.
Digital line ups on the MyHealth Records site have been reportedly long but the province says they are working on better methods including a QR code by Oct. 1.