Weyburn business owners share struggles with COVID-19

Two small business owners in Weyburn shared some of the struggles and victories they have experienced, including the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of support available from the federal and provincial governments.

Vicki Leas of the Welsh Kitchen and Bakery, and Annette Petersen of Route 39 men’s wear store, both spoke to the Weyburn Rotary Club via their Zoom virtual meeting on Thursday.

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Leas has lived in Weyburn for 24 years, and has owned and operated the Welsh Kitchen along with her husband Dan for the past 11 years.

She noted she had always dreamed of having a retail store and never intended to run a restaurant, but the opportunity “just happened” to come up.

After being at home while Dan worked, she took a job at a café until the owner had decided to sell the operation, located in the former Dreis Brothers building at Fourth Street and Souris Avenue.

“One day, I went to see Mal (Barber) and said to him, ‘I’m your new tenant’. It’s funny how life throws you a curve ball. Eleven years on and here we are,” said Leas, referring to the owner of the Dreis Bros. building.

Welsh Kitchen has been closed to sit-down customers since March 17, due to COVID-19, and her staff are on a temporary layoff.

With the recent announcement of Phase 3 to take effect on June 8, restaurants will be able to open but at a 50-per-cent capacity.

With the limited seating space they will have available, Leas is wondering how they will be able to handle the opening, as for example coffee drinkers wouldn’t be able to linger at their seats.

“Even if we do open our doors … I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” said Leas, noting that even just for take-out orders, the protocols for cleanup would be prohibitive.

The federal government has offered to businesses to offset wages, but she noted that business owners have to pay those wages up front, and apply for the subsidy after.

“You don’t know ahead of time whether you’re going to be getting that money,” added Leas.

“We’re taking it one day at a time. We are baking for pickups on Fridays, so people don’t forget that we’re here,” she said. “I’m trying to stay optimistic, but it’s hard.”

Answering questions from Rotary members, Leas said she’s not sure how they’re going to handle things with the half-capacity rules, and suggested it might be a year before the restrictions are fully lifted by the government.

Meantime, she and her husband are in the restaurant on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays doing baking for pickup, such as bread and cinnamon buns.

Petersen told about starting up a men’s store for clothing at the encouragement of her husband, who at the time was a consultant in the oil patch.

The store marked its first year of operation on May 10, and Petersen said, “It was a tough year for me. As I sold more, I bought more and expanded. My husband was a consultant in the oil field, and that hasn’t been good for three years. I thought this would be good because it wasn’t linked to the oil field. He was done in February, and we don’t know when he’s going back.”

She noted that because she’s a new business, she couldn’t qualify to apply for the COVID loan from the federal government, “so I’m getting through this without any help from the government, but I’m going on. I’m positive. I just opened on Tuesday, and it has been good so far.”

While her store has been closed due to the COVID restrictions, she posted sales on her Facebook page, and now they are able to open again under Phase 2 of the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan.

On what she enjoys most in her position as a business owner, Petersen said, “I’m a people person, I enjoy communications with people.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s made for a tough year, as in the past 12 months she’s had sales in four of those 12 months.

“Sales dropped 80 per cent in the last two months,” she said. “Hopefully I can get through these next few months until my fall shipments come in.”

She noted she had one company already canceled their fall shipments to her, but she added, “I’m going to keep my chin up.”