COVID restrictions may be easing across Niagara-on-the-Lake, but fears surrounding the war in Ukraine are on the rise.
For the first time in recent memory, sociable and hungry residents hoping to hang out at Sweets & Swirls in the NOTL Community Centre could directly enter the cafe instead of routing through the proof of vaccination checkpoint at the main entrance.
About 20 residents were chatting and eating in the cafe on Tuesday, a refreshing sight in the often quiet social hub.
A group of four women were busily chatting away at the back of the cafe. And though one said it “was great” to be able to enter the community centre with few restrictions, they were preoccupied with worries about the Russian invasion in Ukraine.
“I was thinking about hopping home to see my sister (in England) but I don’t know if it’s a good time right now,” Sylvia Angelkotter said.
“We don’t know what is going to happen in Europe,” she said.
For Brigitte Ediger, fears of Russian invasions of other former-Soviet bloc countries such as Lithuania and Estonia (both part of the European Union) were close to home.
“I was born there, by the Baltic Sea in Gdańsk (now part of Poland). I took my granddaughter back there once, to show her where I was from,” she said.
“I had a girlfriend from Estonia. She’s gone now.”
Capacity limits have been lifted at most businesses across Niagara-on-the-Lake. Although it isn’t the busy season yet, some business owners and residents are looking forward to a normal summer.
“It’s good. We’ve been getting here very gradually,” Old Town resident Bette Ann James said as she perused the aisles at Hendrik’s Your Independent Grocer on Tuesday.
Retailers and grocery stores no longer have to abide by capacity restrictions but several retailers said that hardly mattered in NOTL at this time of year.
“I can’t say that there’s been an uptick, no, it’s still off-season. But, golly, I’m so happy that it’s March,” said Anne Froese, manager of Serendipity on Queen Street.
Although the effects of reduced restrictions are not immediate for NOTL retailers they have created a sense of ease for some.
“We’re excited about it,” Froese said. “The restaurants will probably notice it a lot more.”
She said guarding the door to ensure the store does not exceed capacity has been “really intense over the last two years.”
She is looking forward to keeping her store's door wide open during warm weather and not having to worry about how many customers come in off the street to purchase her wares.
“We just hope it’s going to stay positive,” she said.
Froese said the business is mindful of its employees' safety and will be retaining strict masking mandates while allowing more people back inside.
“I just pray that we have a fantastic summer,” said Paula Wardrop, retail manager at The Scented Market.
Wardrop said even though restrictions are being lifted she will still try to control the number of people in the small Queen Street store.
“I want people to move around,” she said.
Policing capacity has not been a problem as it was a very slow winter in NOTL, Wardrop said. The store has been there for about a year.
Wardrop said she has noticed continued vigilance isn't easily wearing off as people are still being careful despite the newly relaxed rules.
“Everybody is very respectful now of everybody’s space. That’s my opinion. Nobody’s on top of anybody anymore,” she said.
Even though the business doesn’t have a capacity limit sign, customers still wait outside for others to leave, even when Wardrop says they can enter.
“I think everybody has a good mindset. I think everybody is being very respectful. A lot of people are vaccinated,” she said.
“Even though this mask mandate might be lifted I think people might still wear them. I think I might,” she said.
“I don’t think anybody wants to go back (into a lockdown).”
Wardrop said she believes retailers are going to be alright but said she remains worried about the state of the restaurant industry.
Over at Silversmith Brewing Company in Virgil, people were drinking beer, eating food and bartender Cody Linthicum was ready for business to pick up where it left off in 2019.
“Let’s let human beings be human beings again,” he said.
Not needing to have a dedicated staff member checking vaccine certificates will be a relief for the relatively small restaurant, he said.
“On busy days we only have two people working and one of them would always be over (at the door),” he said.
Despite the difficulties the pandemic has imposed on small businesses and restaurants, Silversmith is “still kicking, baby!” he exclaimed and encouraged readers to stop by for a pint and some grub.