LETHBRIDGE -- Despite the tough business climate in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the creative spirit of entrepreneurs in Lethbridge is still alive and well.

Monroe Salon Studios opened its doors in the city on October 15, with many businesses operating out of the spaces inside, sort of like a business mall.

The CEO and owner of Monroe, Tanya Kellington, says she understands the provincial government is trying to protect people, but by offering no supports for new startups like hers they’ve created a huge challenge for the businesses.

Even in following the 15 per cent capacity rules inside the building and implementing appropriate safety protocols, it’s been difficult since the new restrictions impact hair and nail salons, as well as spas.

That challenging business climate provoked Kellington to make some choices that are having a big impact on other Lethbridge businesses.

“How we’re pivoting is businesses are selling retail, gift cards, they’re doing curbside pickup and for businesses that are shut down I am giving them free rent,” Kellington continued. “Our hopes are that we can continue on without this government support, which is very unfair, and see how we can support ourselves and the community.”

Storefront spaces

Monroe has also opened up storefront spaces for free to give impacted businesses an opportunity and a place to sell their goods before Christmas.

“We have some spaces, some beautiful spaces in here, and we’re offering free pop-up (spaces) to businesses whose markets were shut down because really if we have this space, let’s help our community,” Kellington said.

For the tenants inside the building the support from the community has been strong during these tough times, as many in Lethbridge seem to have gotten behind supporting local.

“The support from the community, our guests and from within Monroe itself has been amazing. Tanya has provided everyone in the building with free rent during this time, so we feel very supported by her as well,” said Elizabeth Benn, one of the co-owners of Rebel Salon YQL.

“I think the best thing that people can do to support small and local businesses right now is buying retail, buying gift cards, and booking in for when we are open again,” explained the other co-owner, Shaelene Ascione.

“That’s kind of the most important thing, as well as sharing our social media and telling your friends.”

Elizabeth Benn and Shaelene Ascione

(Co-owners of Rebel Salon YQL Elizabeth Benn and Shaelene Ascione)

One of the main apprehensions that people have at this time is of course safety, but the layout inside Monroe is such that those who operate inside don’t think anyone should be worried.

“When you look at something like this, we’re a small studio and we maybe have four to five people each in here. We’ve really been able to limit the amount of contact in here and people in here, it’s much different than say a big full service salon,” Ascione said.

Benn says when they opened Alberta Health Services deemed them as very low risk due to the low amount of foot traffic in and around their space.

Kellington believes that when you put good out, it comes. She has faith that they’ll be able to navigate this period, even though she was actually given advice from business advisors not to do what she’s doing.

“My gut said otherwise and I feel at peace with it. And you know what, it’s going to be what it’s going to be and we’re going to be here at the end of this. I know that we will get through this.”

Kellington says she’s reached out to both Premier Jason Kenney and finance minister Travis Toews over the last few weeks to get some answers on whether additional support will be coming, but hasn’t heard anything back.