Many Black Diamond merchants who opened their doors for the first time in two months found themselves run off their feet as the community became a hot spot during the Victoria Day long weekend.
Smokey Goose BBQ, a food shack in the Hard Knox Brewery parking lot, ran out of food just three hours after its smokers fired up.
Saturday marked the official opening for the new business, which is owned and operated by Okotoks resident Vince Gosling.
“The first day, we were supposed to be open until 8 and we ran out of food by 5,” said Gosling. “It was a lot busier than we expected. People seemed to like what we were serving.”
Gosling had his daughters at his side smoking beef, pork and chicken and whipping up side dishes while his wife spent most of her time driving back and forth to the local grocery store.
“We jumped right in with both feet on Saturday,” he said. “Sunday and Monday were almost as busy as Saturday. We were better prepared, but we still ran out of a few things.”
Phase 1 of Alberta’s relaunch strategy kicked off May 14, giving some businesses the go-ahead to reopen after being told to close their doors in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Among those making the cut in Black Diamond were clothing and furniture shops, hair salons, barber shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars.
Some opted to open, such as the Hard Knox Brewery, while others did not, like the Black Diamond Hotel.
The Province implemented a more gradual strategy for Calgary and Brooks, which have the highest concentration of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alberta, postponing the opening of hair salons, barber shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars in those communities to May 25.
Hard Knox Brewery
Calgary’s delayed opening bode well for the Hard Knox Brewery in Black Diamond’s northeast.
Co-owner Pamela Lyken said the business saw upwards of 500 customers each day last weekend, compared to around 200 in past years.
“I wish we had been able to have 100 per cent capacity,” she said. “Our weekend would have been phenomenal. It was a successful weekend for the whole town from what I can gather.”
Staff served bikers, cyclists and car club members, as well as local residents.
“It was so much fun to see so many faces that we hadn’t seen for so long,” Lyken said. “People were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m sitting outside having a beer.’ We saw a lot of new faces, which, for us – especially with Calgary because it didn’t open up – was a real bonus.”
Expecting business to drop on Monday, Lyken and her staff were caught off guard after having reduced staff numbers from the previous two days.
“It was as busy as all the other days and we weren’t anticipating that,” she said. “Fifty per cent capacity is still a lot of people at 20 inside and 45 outside.”
Last weekend’s rush also beat previous years for Cazza Pizzaria on the northwest corner of Black Diamond’s only set of lights.
Owner Nelson St-Pierre, and five of his staff, were busy serving ice cream, pizza slices, hot dogs and poutine to hundreds of customers – the majority of which were from Calgary.
“We were busy the whole weekend,” he said, adding they were open 11 hours a day. “The weather helped.”
Seating was moved outdoors, so customers ordered inside and enjoyed their meals and ice cream at nearby picnic tables or in their vehicles.
St-Pierre attributed the surge in business to the lack of competition since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta two months ago.
“We’ve been doing fantastic since March because most of the restaurants were closed,” he said. “We were the only place around where you could get a burger and fries for two straight months.”
The increased traffic in Black Diamond businesses was also noticed on the streets by senior peace officer Jim Berry.
“It was crazy - I’ve been around here for quite a while and I have never seen that many motorcycles come through the town of Black Diamond in one day," he said. "The traffic volume was non-stop on the weekend, it was a constant flow from 10 in the morning to eight at night. It was a positive thing to see that people were out and about and the weather was real nice."
Berry issued 12 traffic tickets - most for speeding infractions - over the weekend compared to around 100 during a typical Victoria Day weekend.
“There was so much traffic backed up that nobody could slide through,” he said. “When it’s backed up not a lot of speeding is going on.”
Most motorists choosing to make a stop in Black Diamond were compliant when it came to physical distancing, said Berry, who issued no tickets for social distancing violations over the weekend.
"They were lined up outside of the ice cream place and pizza place and they were trying to do their best with social distancing," he said. "When there's that many people, hopefully people were making the right decisions. I'm sure most people did."
The Chuckwagon Café
Three kilometres to the west in Turner Valley, the award-winning Chuckwagon Café didn’t see its usual clientele during a time that’s typically hopping for the busy establishment, said long-term server Susan Green.
“Historically on a long weekend this place is jumping,” he said. “These are extraordinary circumstances. We had certainly seen much busier years but we’re grateful for every dollar spent here.”
The Chuckwagon reopened May 14, offering both an eat-in option with seating at just six tables to comply with the 50 per cent capacity requirement and a takeout window, allowing customers to dine at the nearby pavilion, picnic tables or at home.
“The takeout window has turned the restaurant into a food truck,” said Green. “It’s there to make everyone feel comfortable if they don’t want to come into the building.”
Green said most customers who dined in last weekend were regulars.
“We saw not a lot of Calgarians,” she said. “Most were from smaller communities just going for a drive and enjoying the beautiful weather.”
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