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Lac La Biche Chamber president surprised by Premier's COVID stance

Dave Phillips saw a complete lockdown of local business coming.
Tina's Smoke Shop sign
The sign on the door of a local business outlines the strict COVID rules needed to keep the business open. IMage Rob McKinley

LAC LA BICHE - Dave Phillips expected a complete lockdown of local business.

The Lac La Biche and District Chamber of Commerce president says when Alberta Premier Jason Kenney brought in additional restrictive measures last Tuesday to reduce the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus, he was sure local businesses were facing closures. 

"I was expecting a total lockdown," says Phillips who took the helm of the local business assistance group a month ago.

Calling it a State of Public Health Emergency, Kenney said retail businesses across the province would be restricted to 25 per cent capacity in their buildings for the next three weeks. The emergency measures will also force some service providers to close walk-in service and serve only those customers who have made appointments. Bars and restaurants continue to have restrictions placed on their hours of operation and their liquor service times. New restrictions only allow customers to sit together if they live in the same household. 


The changes are going to have an impact on local business, says Phillips. He has mixed feelings about many aspects of the province's announcement, including disappointment that province-wide mask legislation wasn't put into place.

Phillips doesn't share his feelings politically one way or the other on the mask debate, but he says leaving it up to businesses to enforce their own choices on whether customers are to wear masks isn't fair.

'I think it's wrong for the province to expect a person making $15 per hour to try to enforce this themselves," he said.

As for the economic impact of the pandemic in general, locally Phillips said it has devastated some businesses.

"I know that some of them, it hasn't affected, they aren't feeling it at all — some are even busy. But there are some that are faced with closing their doors forever ... some have already," he said, adding that Chamber officials are often asked what they can do to help the local economy. "Without a doubt, the Chamber is front and centre on this."

As for advice, however, Phillips said there are a lot of tough choices many people are being forced to make. Despite the challenges, he tries to stay positive, and he encourages as many business owners to do the same. Phillips also encourages them to stay healthy and stay open. For many, he sees financial challenges from the past coming back to haunt them in the economic downturn impacted further by the pandemic and global online shopping competition. "I think the ones that will come out OK and continue to survive will be those who have managed their debt the best."

Phillips says the Chamber has many resources available to business owners looking for financial assistance, staffing help or other ideas to help them compete and overcome challenges.

Online issues

In a recent email survey, more than 90 per cent of the responses from business owners said online shopping from outside the community was their leading challenge.

Phillips says the Chamber will continue to work with local businesses to amplify the message that promotes local shopping, local service and local support.

"Small towns, by far, are still the best place to live. In a way we can hunker down — but we need to rely on each other," he said re-enforcing the notion that local customers are also family and neighbours. 

Phillips hopes the next three weeks of the province's enhanced measures — which encourage restrictions on travel outside of the home community — will make local residents appreciate their local businesses.

Recent US-based studies show that at least two-thirds of every dollar spent in local businesses stays in that community. Another recent study shows that 50 cents of every dollar spent online shopping goes to Amazon. Phillips says the studies show what he and Chamber executives already know.

"We have to work with each other to get through this."

Rob McKinley

About the Author: Rob McKinley

Rob has been in the media, marketing and promotion business for 30 years, working in the public sector, as well as media outlets in major metropolitan markets, smaller rural communities and Indigenous-focused settings.
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