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How one Okotoks business is coping with the pandemic

Dick Nichols 0020
Dick Nichols, Business Beat

After being involved in the dance business more than 35 years, Gail Bartelen probably thought she’d seen it all.

But COVID-19 is something she never expected.

“None of us have ever had to consider this before,” said Gail, whose company, Fabulous Feet Productions, organizes dance competitions in Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. For the past 20 years, Fabulous Feet has staged its contests in the spring − March, April, and May.

The company employs four people full time and about 30 part time. Some travel to each event, but most are hired on location. These part-time employees count on the money they earn to help make ends meet.

Last Thursday Gail was about to head up to a Red Deer competition when she received a notice that the event had been called off. She wasn’t surprised and wasn’t overly concerned.

“We thought we’d get through this in a couple of weeks,” she said.

However, within 24 hours, three more events were cancelled. And with four more scheduled in the middle of April, Gail has become increasingly apprehensive.

“We are trying to reschedule,” she added, “but of course people who have paid entry fees are now asking us to provide refunds.”

Like every event management company, Fabulous Feet has already purchased medals and trophies and other supplies using the money from its entry fees. It’s a situation that has the potential to be devastating for every company that runs competition events. Gail is trying to reschedule, but her window of opportunity is closing. Most dance studios go dark over the summer.

“We’re hoping our last four events are not affected and were trying to rearrange times before the end of June for the ones that been postponed,” she said. “Of course, other competitions are also bidding for the space.”

So, for now, Fabulous Feet Productions is taking it one step at a time, asking people to be patient. 

“It’s new to us too,” Gail said, “and we’ll do everything we can to keep running.

But until they lift the ban, there’s not a lot we can do.”

This is the story of one person running a small business, but it’s being replicated in every community.

The saddest thing of all is the impact it’s having on the young dancers who have been practising choreography since the fall. This was going to be the climax of their season.

“One studio had to cancel four festivals and said its kids were just devastated because they were unable to perform.”

All too often, we think of the economy only in its biggest terms – the oil companies, the large agricultural firms, the businesses that employ lots of people.

Businesses like Fabulous Feet Productions are connected to the small, but no less significant part of the economy – in this case, the part that makes life enjoyable.

And while big business may be the meat and potatoes of our economy, small business is most often the spice.