Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass area sees influx of new businesses as tourism succeeds despite COVID-19

Crowsnest Pass is a municipality comprised of five towns in southwestern Alberta, just shy of the British Columbia border.

It is home to about 5,600 permanent residents, plus a few thousand more seasonal residents.

Sacha Anderson, president of the Crowsnest Pass Chamber of Commerce, says there has been a “massive” influx of Albertans coming to the area since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“With the border being closed, the United States-Canadian border, we definitely saw a huge surge in Albertans travelling to Crowsnest Pass this year,” she said.

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Anderson adds with many summer events and attractions cancelled, it was exciting to see Albertans still coming to the area, both throughout the summer months and into ski season.

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“Our Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, their numbers were second in the province in terms of provincial sites,” she said. “Even with reduced capacity,  I know the Rum Runner (restaurant had) the highest numbers they’ve ever had.

“I had a lot of tourism operators that were saying it was their best in 20 years, best in 18 years, type of summer.”

Marie Nel, owner of The Cherry on Top Bakery and Koffie Shop in downtown Blairmore, says both the community and visitors have been very supportive of local businesses like hers.

“I think being in a small town with community support, it was a really good help, you know? People are very passionate about new businesses and they just really wanted to support and that means a lot.”

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Originally from South Africa, Nel wanted to bring her love of baking to the Pass, doing so in late 2018.

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While it has been challenging, she is hopeful the support from the community will continue, and seeing newer businesses join the area is encouraging.

“It’s nice to have more businesses popping up,” she said.  “I can think of three right now just in the last month.”

Businesses such as Soo Sushi, Work N’ Play, and the Crowsnest Candy Company opened in Blairmore during the pandemic.

“For a long time we wanted to open a candy store, and we’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years and looking around town for the best place to do that,” said Crowsnest Candy Co. owner Val Gingrich.

Gingrich admits she wasn’t sure if opening during the COVID-19 pandemic was the best course of action, but they took a leap of faith and officially began selling sweets in October 2020 .

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“The community here in the Crowsnest Pass is awesome, and everybody has just welcomed us,” Gingrich said. “Even people coming through the area and visiting and that sort of thing, come and support us, and that’s been really great.”

While some of the business interest can be attributed to an increase in tourism, Anderson says there could be a variety of explanations.

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“It isn’t just tourism, some of it is speculation of the coal mines coming in,” she explained. “So some of the businesses that are opening are definitely looking at that potential boom (and) influx of residents.”

Anderson adds low cases of COVID-19 infections in the community could also be contributing to the positive effects on the business landscape.

“It’s just phenomenal to see the appreciation of the community.”

The Crowsnest Pass was formed by the amalgamation of five municipalities in 1979 — Frank, Bellevue, Coalman, Blairmore, and Hillcrest.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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