Businesses in Niagara-on-the-Lake are opening up again after the provincial lockdown forced them to shut down.
Along Queen Street, shops are setting up social distancing measures to try to open safely and avoid violating any emergency orders.
The Lake Report chatted with some business owners and workers downtown on Monday afternoon to see how the reopening has been going and how this past weekend was compared to a normal year.
Dan Holden, an employee at Oliv Tasting Room on Queen Street, said being safe is the top priority at the store.
“It’s nice that the owners have basically said, ‘absolute safety first,’” he says, through a face mask.
The store has a sign on the door that can be flipped around when customers are in the store, letting people know they’re serving someone and asking people to wait patiently outside.
“And as soon as people come in, that gets flipped, we spritz their hands, I spritz mine. I’m the only one touching bottles, they’re throwing out their tasting cups,” Holden said. “Also, it’s absolutely safety first as far as the staff goes, which I love. I’ve actually got a face shield back there that they left for me to wear if I wanted to.”
Holden said the border closure is affecting the store, though things are manageable.
“We’re doing OK. Unfortunately, we’re a tourist town and with having the border closed, I mean, it’s the best thing for everybody as far as safety goes, but it’s going to take a lot of our business away. So we’re basically living off of locals right now. And it’s not a big town — there’s not a lot of locals.”
It’s been tough, particularly for specialty shops, he said.
“Especially someone like us, where it’s kind of a specialty type of thing. You’re only going to be buying so much olive oil and so much balsamic vinegar every year. So once we’ve filled all the local shelves and then pantries and whatever else, you know, then there’s really not a lot left over.”
He said the store has been coping by trying to mitigate the losses.
“We’re knocking down the labour cost as much as we can. I’m only here today because the owner actually had a meeting this afternoon or else it would be the owner that was here. So, you know, we’re doing everything we can to try to maximize our earning potential,” he said.
“But at the same time, this is Memorial Day weekend where, I mean, we should be full of Americans. And the border is closed. So, like I said, it is absolutely the best thing for everybody from a safety standpoint. But from a business standpoint, it’s not doing us any favours.”
He said for him, it’s nice to be working.
“It’s nice to be out of the house for a change. My wife’s a PSW, so she’s getting like 40-plus hours a week, but I’ve had to completely restrict my travel. I go to like Shoppers Drug Mart once a week. That’s my weekly outing. Because I can’t get sick because if I do, she does and then she can’t work.”
Down the street at The Butterly Gallery, owner Jadwiga Dabrowski says it’s good to be open again, though things are a bit slower than usual.
“But we’re very happy that we’re able to open back up and take it slowly,” she said.
She has a four-person limit in the store, a protective screen at the checkout and is constantly sanitizing the store after every customer.
She said she’s had to ask a couple of people to wait outside, and so far customers are respecting the store’s safety protocols.
“I’m very pleased with the way customers are acting. They all respect the rules, use hand sanitizer and keep a distance,” she said.
Like the rest of the stores, she said she’s doing her best to keep people safe.
“All of us are trying to do our best to stay open and do everything possible not to increase (spread) and go back to what we had before,” she said.
“So everyone is really trying their best to be able to prevent any spread of the disease, as much as possible. And we’re all trying to navigate through the new way of shopping being open and interacting, with each other, which is not an easy task to do.”
At Beau Chapeau, which reopened the Wednesday before the weekend, manager Nicole Fraser says it’s been “unpredictable.”
“But (it’s) not too bad. We’ve had some traffic. It hasn’t been as busy as we expected. But we also kind of expected to be closed right till July possibly. So anything is a little bit better than nothing, I guess at this point.”
She said the store has been doing well in online sales.
“We’ve been running our website and doing curbside pickup and all that kind of stuff. So that’s been doing really well for us. We’ve still kind of made ends meet at least that way.”
While weekdays are slow, the weekends are busy “traffic-wise,” she said.
“We were pretty busy on Saturday and Sunday for sure.”
Like the others, Beau Chapeau has taken extra measures to be safe. The store has made masks mandatory for everyone and was even supplying them to customers.
“It just is more comfortable for us as sales associates. We have some tight corners in here (which) makes it difficult to maintain that six-foot distance all the time. So, we’ve done that for our staff and our guests. And a lot of the locals seem to really appreciate that,”
“I was speaking to a guy yesterday, he almost had me in tears, he was so happy that we were doing that … it’s a kindness at this point to make sure that we’re doing that.”
She said the store plans to keep the mask policy in until the state of emergency ends in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
At Old Town Goodies, owner Bill Pullman said the weekend was busier than he thought it would be, though it wasn’t as brisk as the typical American holiday weekend.
“Not as busy as a normal May weekend, obviously. But pretty good,” he said.
Many businesses are “taking a hit” during the week, he said.
“We’ve heard from other people that during the week (business) is dead, but what are you gonna do? There’s no international flights, the border’s closed. And the Shaw usually has five or six plays open. So those day-trippers aren’t coming down either. Anybody doing wine tours are not coming down. We’ve talked to a couple of tour guides, like they work with bus companies, and they’re all cancelled right to the end of June. So, they’re not going to come until mid-July probably.”
He said he’s had to cut back on staff to try to mitigate some losses.
At Wow Me Gadgets, the store is defying the odds, and just opened for the first time on Saturday.
Store manager Shannon Berardi said it’s been an interesting experience opening a new store amid a pandemic.
“When we got the green light open we kind of just jumped on it and opened up our doors,” she said.
“So we had a couple sales, which was nice — two local people, which was nice as well.”
She said the biggest challenge is making sure people feel comfortable coming in to shop and she is also taking extra measures to make sure it’s safe.
The store has set up tape markers, plexiglass, hand sanitizer and is limiting customers to four at a time.
Still, she said, people are unsure about coming in.
“I think a lot of people kind of like walk by, look, and they’re a little hesitant to come in.”
She said she thinks some people just aren’t ready to enter stores yet if they don’t need something essential, and others might not think spending money right now is a good idea.