Downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake was starting to show signs of life again on Saturday, despite a rainy, wet morning.
At about noon, groups of visitors were walking the streets, window shopping and picking up goods from the local merchants.
And while the people seem to be starting to return, some store managers are hoping for more traffic and for an easing of restrictions for unvaccinated Americans.
Camille Epondulas, manager at Gyros on the Lake, said customers have started to return, especially over the March break. She said she’s looking forward to what will hopefully be a busier season.
For now, she said the store is still relying on the support of locals — something she says has really helped.
She thinks further easing border restrictions could help bring in more people.
Kim Santos, from the Cambridge area, was enjoying some food from Gyros on the Lake with her boyfriend Joseph Bonsignore. She said the two have come to Niagara-on-the-Lake four or five times a year for the last five years or so.
They usually go to the casinos in Niagara Falls first, but always visit NOTL.
“We always stop the next day here because we love Niagara-on-the-Lake, we love the businesses. And every time we come here we bring a lot of family members when we come down. And we’ll come here to eat. We just love the food and the atmosphere and the service here is always great,” Santos said.
As a regular visitor, she’s really happy to see things opening up again. For her, it’s more of a reason to come down and said it makes her feel safer to be out and about.
At BeauChapeau Hat Shop, master hatter Meghan Harrison said since mask restrictions were lifted, customers are starting to come back — happier.
“More and more people are getting excited about coming out and being able to just get out and shop now. Moods have been lifted a lot since masks haven’t been mandatory. We’re still seeing some people wear them. Some people aren’t. But the overall mood from everyone is a lot better,” she said.
At the shop, most of the staff are still wearing masks because they’re working closely with people to do hat fittings.
“(It’s) personal preference, really. If people don’t want to wear their masks, they don’t have to,” Harrison said.
Most staff are donning masks “because we’re in very close proximity with people, measuring heads, helping with hat styling and that kind of thing.” And with some clients preferring masks, “we don’t want to make them feel ill at ease.”
She is predicting the spring and summer seasons will be busier than the last two years, “leaning more towards getting back to the way it was before all of this started to happen.”
“Because again, people are more in the mood to get out and about now that they don’t have to wear something on their face.”
The store gets a lot of visitors from the United States, she said, and is hoping for the further lifting of travel restrictions.
“It’d be nice to have them be able to come back and have it be a little bit more free and open that way. We’re just looking forward to seeing people again.”
She’s already seeing American visitors.
“We’ve had people basically as soon as it was opened up for people to come,” she said, noting a lot of people who weren’t able to come have been placing online orders.