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Economy
Yellowknife

Some YK restaurants want two-week shutdown to help businesses


As more than 1,000 people isolate in response to a Covid-19 outbreak at a Yellowknife school, some city restaurants are calling for a two-week shutdown.

The Monkey Tree Pub and NWT Brewing Company each said that with a lull in customers and Covid-19 cases increasing, locking down the city for two weeks made sense for the community and their businesses, too.

Jennifer Vornbrock, co-owner of the Monkey Tree, said a shutdown would let restaurants take time to figure out how to keep afloat as customer numbers dip.

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She said with nobody coming to the restaurant and bar, forcing it to close early this week, she held a meeting to work out how to cut hours for staff.

Vornbrock said she would “much rather go through two weeks of a solid [lockdown], everybody does their part, then we can get back to normal.”

“If we continue to remain open, it’s like they’ve inadvertently shut us down,” she said.

“Maybe they didn’t clearly state that but they’re asking you not to frequent businesses as much as you can, and we’re directly impacted by that.”

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Mel Leonard, communications manager for the NWT Brewing Company, agreed.

He said it would have been “ideal” to see “a circuit breaker” lockdown as the first cases in the most recent outbreak were being discovered.

“People are not wanting to go out when cases go up and so it’s difficult to stay open. We’re already under reduced capacity and this only reduces it further,” he said.

Leonard said the “community is in mind first” when the restaurant makes decisions to close or move to a takeout option – as it now has.

But, he said, it was “unfortunate the onus is on restaurant owners and businesses to kind-of police the community, like to shut down or reduce their contact, in order to stop the spread of potential Covid cases.”

He added: “A circuit breaker would be very effective and kind-of put us all in the same boat. I know there are other restaurants in town that are probably struggling, that are open and not having many people show up.”

The company’s brewpub on Franklin Avenue had Cinco de Mayo meals and a Mother’s Day brunch planned this week.

“We had already ordered a whole bunch of food for those programs, so that means we were forced to go to takeout in order to not have all this food spoil,” he said.

No need for a full lockdown – Kandola

The NWT’s chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola, on Monday said a full lockdown isn’t necessary in Yellowknife at this point.

At a news conference, Kandola said the NWT is “in a much different position currently than it was a year ago“ and there is no need for a lockdown as all cases can be tracked back to the outbreak’s genesis at NJ Macpherson School.

Students and staff at the school, and their household members, are isolating.

Around 70 percent of Yellowknife’s eligible adult population is at least partially vaccinated and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is being rolled out in the NWT for teenagers aged 12 to 17.

“This higher immunization coverage gives a different public health risk assessment than we had one year ago,” said Kandola on Monday, referring to the number of eligible adults vaccinated.

On Tuesday, Kandola said she was not declaring a community-wide outbreak in Yellowknife as her office is still investigating transmission chains.

“All of the confirmed and probable cases identified to date are connected to one large cluster, linked by time, location and common exposures,” a news release that day stated. 

Ed But, the owner of Coyote’s Bistro, said if a lockdown did happen, it would have to be unified so businesses in town are all in the same position.

He said business at Coyote’s had dropped by “probably 70 percent.” He was offering contactless delivery specials so people can get food while isolating.

Not all businesses say they have the capacity to deliver. Both the Monkey Tree and the brewpub are among those who say it’s not viable.

“In the past we’ve tried delivery … and it’s not feasible for the size of our business, it doesn’t sustain,” Vornbrock said.

“We really need our full operations, we need our liquor sales, we need our regulars who come and see us – that’s our business model.”

Leslie Bromley, the owner and manager of Gourmet Cup, said she was “torn” over a lockdown.

“I could use the time off,” she said. “But at the same time, I’ve got a really loyal group of customers that just keep coming in.”

So far, the business has been able to keep its hours of 8am until 2pm but has noticed a drop in customers.

“My morning rush is non-existent,” she said. “My lunch rush is still good.”

Ease of mind

Some restaurants and bars are under self-imposed lockdowns.

In Yellowknife’s Old Town, Bullocks Bistro co-owner Jo-Ann Martin said the restaurant decided to completely shut down on Sunday night.

That’s partly because some staff needed to isolate as contacts of the NJ Macpherson cluster, said Martin, but also because she doesn’t “want to be part of the problem, I’d rather be part of the solution.”

“We just don’t want to take any chances,” she said.

“The more we thought about it, the more we realized we didn’t want to create a situation where people would have an excuse to gather.”

Martin thinks a full lockdown would help restaurants and curb transmission. After Cabin Radio spoke with her, a public exposure notification was posted for Bullocks Bistro between 1pm and 2:45pm on April 30. Anyone who was there at the time must isolate immediately and arrange for testing.

Harley’s, a Yellowknife strip club and bar, said on Thursday it would close for at least one week to “do our part to protect the community.”

“We can’t afford to close but we chose to help the community by minimizing the number of places people who may be in contact with Covid can go,” said owner Scott Yuill.

“If the numbers continue to increase, we may stay closed longer. If we can flatten the numbers or stop the spread quicker, then we can go back to business as usual.”

Other restaurants and cafés in Yellowknife have taken similar steps. Among those with modified or suspended services are Mark’s Restaurant, Birchwood Coffee Kǫ̀, Wing Freak, Good Vibes Yellowknife, and Copperhouse.

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