The return of winter weather Monday was an expensive disruption for many businesses struggling to recover after a year of public-health restrictions — which may tighten again soon.
The past year has battered many local restaurants, and with their patios buried under 10 or more centimetres of snow, the pain continues this week.
"I would imagine that we’ll see probably between 30 and 40 per cent lower sales this week than we saw last week," said Kaely Dyck, a co-owner of four Smitty’s restaurants.
Until Monday, dine-in restaurants had been capitalizing from generally pleasant early spring weather. Some reported raking in over half their revenue from patio sales. Representatives at Bar Italia, Corrientes and Stone Angel Brewing Co. all said they expect significant drops in sales in the upcoming week.
Jay Kilgour, owner of Fionn MacCool’s on Grant Avenue, said patio sales have accounted for 70 per cent of sales in recent weeks. Judging from last week's receipts, he estimated the weather will cost his business $20,000.
With sales expected to plummet this week, many restaurants are already cancelling servers' shifts. Some haven’t returned to full-time hours since the province relaxed restrictions, so they may still qualify for some unemployment benefits, Dyck said. Others may not be so lucky.
"There will be some staff that this is a huge hit for, for sure," she said.
The snow wasn’t the only worry weighing on business owners’ minds Monday. Chief provincial health officer Dr. Brent Roussin told a news conference rising COVID-19 case counts may leave the province with no choice but to reimpose increased restrictions soon.
Manitoba Restaurant & Foodservices Association executive director Shaun Jeffrey said restaurant owners often call him with worries about ramping up restrictions.
"It would just be such a defeating blow to our industry," he said. "We just couldn’t survive another (lockdown). There would be a lot of towels being thrown in."
Restaurants have been going above and beyond to follow and adapt to restrictions, he said. Many have invested heavily in patio spaces by purchasing additional heaters and tables, he said. Demand has raised prices and that will add to the losses that result from winter's return, brief though it may be.
Garden centres also reported slow business Monday. The main concern, said Ray Dubois, owner of Ron Paul’s Garden Centre, is the threat of increased restrictions.
Garden centres were deemed essential services in previous lockdowns, but owners still worry restrictions could cut into profits during their busiest season.
Dubois said he does about 60 per cent of his business in May and June. If restrictions tighten, he could be left on the hook for unsellable merchandise. He said he carries an inventory worth more than $1 million.
"It would be a catastrophic loss," said Dubois, adding he's preparing for the worst.
"I would be shocked if they don’t pre-emptively lock this down," he said. To mitigate his losses, he said he’s prepared to shift business models. During earlier lockdowns, he said, he started selling groceries, which he can do because he’s a member of Federated Co-operatives Ltd. Other centres may not have that option, however.
Monday’s snow also had motorists cancelling appointments to swap out their winter tires, several garages around town reported. For most, it was a minor issue, but Rudy Epp of Rudy’s Auto Service said his slew of cancellations was one more thing after a tough year. And it comes during what is normally his busiest month.
"It’s been a little flatter already because of COVID, and now with this little setback, this is going to push things back further again," he said.
Epp said people often use winter-tire appointments to spring for other repairs and maintenance, so losses from the appointments may be greater than just the tire changes if they're not rescheduled.