Every local business, no matter how popular, felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — and Patent 5 Distillery was no exception.
The Exchange District operation, which opened in April of 2019, specializes in gin, whiskey and snacks, and its tasting room soon became a popular spot for locals and out-of-towners alike.
But after it opened with great fanfare, the pandemic hit.
“It was March of 2020, right when it really hit and they closed everything down,” said Brock Coutts, one of the distillery’s founders.
“So over our first three years in business, we were closed more than we were open.”
But while businesses like Coutts’ took a pandemic-related hit, some sectors of Manitoba’s tourism industry managed to stay afloat thanks in part to a successful “staycation” campaign.
Tourism Winnipeg vice-president Natalie Thiessen told Global Winnipeg that people got creative when it came to close-to-home solutions to travel restrictions.
“In the second year of the pandemic, Winnipeggers, Manitobans, showed up to support those businesses,” she said.
“(It was) the rise of the staycation, exploring the province, and experiences in their own backyard … knowing they couldn’t leave the provincial borders and knowing that we couldn’t welcome visitors to our province.
“I think that was really critical to the survival of some of those businesses, to make it through that really difficult time.”
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At The Forks, marketing manager Zach Peters told Global Winnipeg one advantage the historic meeting place had during the pandemic was that people could still visit the site because of all the outdoor activities.
“We have a lot of public space — it’s a 52-acre site, so there’s a lot of outdoor space, and what we actually found was that resonated with people,” Peters said.
“They wanted to still be outside, be active…. The river (skating) trail got more usage during that pandemic than even before. We saw those unique outdoor experiences we could offer people being a huge hit during the pandemic, and that really took off.”
Peters said moving forward, new businesses are popping up in the Forks Market.
And the future of Manitoba’s tourism industry also looks bright.
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“We know from our hoteliers in terms of occupancy levels that they’re up and that business is strong, so that’s really positive,” Thiessen said.
“Across the country, Manitoba has fared better than other jurisdictions — whether they’re coming to see the polar bears up in Churchill, whether they’re coming for international business events…. As of late last year, those had already levelled up to 2019 levels.
“And based on where we’re at this point in the year, year-to-date, were already surpassing those 2019 levels.”
Things have also returned to normal for Coutts and his Patent 5 Distillery — to the point where the tasting room is seeing an influx of visitors from the U.S. for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
“We’ve had distillers and visitors from New York, North and South Dakota, Minnesota … and this summer it just started to pick up again, to where we’ve noticed the guests coming in from the northern States.”
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