The Victoria Day long weekend saw tourists flock to Niagara-on-the-Lake, especially on Saturday.
Queen Street was packed with visitors, side streets were lined with parked cars and traffic was bumper-to-bumper.
Along the strip, many businesses opened their doors for the long weekend after being given the green light by the province.
For some stores, like Cheese Secrets, it was the best day they’ve had since the pandemic was declared in March.
“It’s nice to see the town buzzing to be quite honest,” said Xavier Allard, co-owner of Cheese Secrets. “It’s busy so far today,” he said Saturday.
People were being “co-operative” in following the shop’s emergency procedures.
“Interesting having to manage people a bit more,” he said. The store has a limit of three people at a time.
“Today’s probably going to be one of the busiest days we’ve had in the past two months. So it’s needed. It’s definitely needed.”
He said the business had been struggling somewhat since COVID restrictions were put in place.
“One thing that was a bit of a saving grace is we started doing preordered platters. So order your platter between Monday and Thursday and then Friday, Saturday I put out all the platters.”
The store now has three sizes of cheese and meat platters.
“So that’s been helpful. Mother’s Day was a good weekend, I actually had over 50 platters on Mother’s Day, so that kept me buzzing,” Allard said.
Being able to open a little bit now is a relief. “It’s definitely a little bit of weight off the shoulders. Because before was, ‘Oh, how are we going to make rent? How are we going to get by?’”
He said the closing of the NOTL SupperMarket was a “big loss” for the business.
“To be quite honest, like thousands,” he said.
He said other markets, like the St. Catharines market are going to be substantially changed.
“Online stuff for the St. Catharines market is going to be very distanced — only the amount of customers as there are vendors in the market area at once, so it’s going to be interesting, a lot slower paced,” Allard said.
“That’s the one thing I kind of appreciate, I guess, about all of this, is that everybody’s taken a step back and easing back into it. It’s more of a slow-paced lifestyle, which is kind of nice.”
He said given the long weekend traffic, he’s “hopeful” about tourists returning, though he doesn’t expect things to be back to normal.
“But we’ve got to get used to our new normal. It’s going to be a new normal that we’re gonna ease into and have to think a little outside the box — or even in the box, because people are now putting packages together, preordered boxes.”
He said Cheese Secrets and some other stores in town are planning a box with various products. “It’s about thinking outside of the box and trying new ways of getting customers, essentially.”
He said social media has become more important than ever.
“Social media is a big one that everybody kind of knows and knew, but now it’s like you have to. If you’re not online, if you don’t have a presence on the internet or a way for people to communicate with you on the internet, it’s hard to have business.”
He said some store owners he knows have been struggling without an online presence.
“(They) really had nothing to do until just now where finally some of the people are coming around.”
He remains hopeful and will keep up the extra precautions in the store.
“It feels good to be back in the groove of things and busy again. It’s a little more in depth of being careful, but it’s worth it.”