COVID-19: Alberta’s live events industry faces bleak holiday season with no work

Pandemic restrictions have taken the “live” out of many live events already this year, and the end of 2020 is proving to be no different.

Calgary-based Stardust Event Group usually does hundreds of gigs during the holiday season. This year, in what would have been the audio visual equipment supplier’s 44th holiday season, it has its entire calendar free.

“We have zero work. We have literally zero dollars coming in for the entire two-month period,” owner Bill Filyk told Global News.

He said the work started slowing down in March when COVID-19 cases started to pick up. While business gained some steam over the summer, it completely came to a halt last month.

“We do a lot of the big corporate stuff,” Filyk said. “They will have us do their big Christmas parties, but these big parties where people go up in the mountains — they’re not doing that anymore.”

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Calgary audio/visual company copes with no bookings this holiday season
Calgary audio/visual company copes with no bookings this holiday season. Global Calgary

READ MORE: COVID-19 cancels Christmas parties and other live events in Alberta 

Calgary-based event catering company Red Seal Dining, in business for eight years, has also been cooking up the same amount of business — none.

“At this point we’re 100 per cent shut down. I’ve had to lay off all of my staff,” owner Rob Wheatcroft said.

Wheatcroft had high hopes for 2020. He thought it was going to be the best year he’d ever had, but the pandemic put a stop to that.

The personal chef has his own prep kitchen where he does all of his work in advance. He then finishes and serves the meal at the customer’s home.

New provincial health mandates restrict small and large gatherings in an individuals’ home — which Wheatcroft said makes it impossible for him to do his job.

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“We’re no longer taking bookings of any kind,” he said. “Because the legal wordage is the second that I walk into a person’s home — I’m breaking the law.”

Calgary catering company copes with no bookings this holiday season
Calgary catering company copes with no bookings this holiday season. Global Calgary

The restrictions are also breaking Wheatcroft’s and Filyk’s bank accounts. Both men told Global News the holiday season is their busiest season.

Filyk said it accounts for 35 to 40 per cent of his annual business.

“We’re going to have probably five-digit losses in this time period,” he said. “We’re definitely incurring a lot of debt load through the COVID(-19).”

Watch: Coronavirus: Alberta’s already struggling businesses face more restrictions

A poll done in October by the Alberta Live Events Coalition found many business owners are struggling. Those surveyed reported a 95 per cent drop in their 2020 income. They also reported their first quarter was decimated and Q2 was not far behind.

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Some have reported the possibility of shutting down, but Filyk isn’t among them.

“We saved for that rainy day a bit,” he told Global News. “In addition, we’ve been really fortunate that the governments have taken care of us and we’ve gotten some of the different grants.”

Wheatcroft said he continues to lose money, even though he’s not taking a wage. He also said he has faced challenges getting some of the government grants.

“We’re not able to access all of the federal funds that have been put forward because this hasn’t been labelled a lockdown,” he said.

“So even though it’s illegal for me to do my job, I’m not able to access the funds that have already been set aside.”

Both men are confident they can survive and are already looking ahead — to next year.

“We just need to kind of weather the storm,” Wheatcroft said.

“I think people are going to be ready to party,” Filyk added. “They’re going to be ready to have fun.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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