Businesses hit hard on first weekend of new COVID-19 liquor restrictions
VANCOUVER -- Calls are growing for B.C. health officials to loosen new liquor service rules, after businesses recorded major losses on the first weekend they came into effect.
Last week, the province announced that all bars and restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. as a way to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Michael Brennan, owner of The Heatley in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, is already seeing the impact of the rule.
“We lost, easily, 50 per cent or more of our revenue this weekend,” Brennan said.
His bar starts to fill up after 9 p.m. most nights and his liquor licence allows him to pour drinks until 1 a.m.
“For a business like ours – where the majority of our sales are probably between 9 and midnight – to be closed at 10, you know, is devastating,” Brennan said.
If the current restrictions stay in place, he added, his business will have to close for good by November.
On Friday, an advisory panel made up of 11 representatives from various industries sent a letter to the province asking to extend the end of liquor service from 10 p.m. to midnight, saying it would “provide a more reasonable operating time frame and economic model for the businesses involved.”
The Health Ministry responded in a statement, saying “most restaurants have been doing a great job of keeping things under control, but that’s harder late at night with alcohol.” The statement goes on to explain that when alcohol is involved, and there’s mixing of unconnected social groups going on, coronavirus transmission has been happening.
“This decision was not made lightly and orders like this are only issued when absolutely necessary,” the ministry said. “However, as our cases climb and we move into cold and flu season, we need to make some changes to reduce the risk everywhere, including in these settings. We know that this will be a challenging time for nightlife-focused businesses, but we need to focus on the things we can do to stop the transmission of COVID-19.”
City councillor Pete Fry fears the new measure could result in hundreds, if not thousands, of job losses. He’s hoping Vancouver City Council can get involved this week and work with the province to reach a compromise.
“It’s certainly going to be coming up at our Tuesday council meeting … and I hope we can work together with the provincial health officer and the province to figure out solutions,” Fry said.
He’s on board with finishing alcohol service at midnight instead of 10 p.m., while also advocating for stricter enforcement for businesses that don’t abide by the health measures.
“I hope we can get to a place where we’re rewarding the good players, punishing the bad actors, if folks are in violation of the provincial health orders, that they’re shut down immediately, not just a warning,” Fry said.