Ottawa businesses recalling employees, readying patios after province gives green light to reopening

Patio
Restaurants and bars can open patios in Ottawa starting this Friday, providing they ensure physical distancing of at least two metres between patrons from different households. (File photo by Daryl Mitchell / Flickr)

Restaurant patios, hair salons, shopping malls, tour operators and dozens of other businesses in Ottawa will be allowed to reopen Friday morning after provincial officials said they would let businesses in certain parts of Ontario proceed to the next phase of reopening.

Premier Doug Ford and several cabinet ministers made the announcement at a press conference Monday.

Recognizing that different parts of Ontario have had greater success in containing the spread of COVID-19 than others, government officials said the current restrictions would stay in place in Toronto and many other southern Ontario communities.

Ottawa, as well as most communities in eastern and northern Ontario, can proceed to “stage two” reopening.

That means restaurants and bars can open for dining in outdoor areas such as patios. Many tour operators – such as walking or cycling guides – as well as outdoor-only recreational facilities can resume operations as long as they adhere to physical distancing measures and limits on the size of public gatherings.

Barbershops, hairdressers and beauty salons will also be permitted to open when restrictions are lifted Friday.

Across the province, gathering limits will be expanded to up to 10 people, although individuals must still practise physical distancing by keeping at least two metres away from others outside of their direct household.

Monday’s news brought smiles to the faces of many local entrepreneurs and businesses advocates who’d been patiently waiting for the province to ease restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“This is exactly what we’ve been looking for,” said Sueling Ching, president and CEO of the Ottawa Board of Trade, which represents hundreds of organizations from across the city. 

“We felt all businesses were essential to our recovery and we want to get businesses opened back up as soon as possible.”

Ching said research from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce suggested most small businesses in the province could not survive longer than 90 days without at least some cash flow, meaning Monday’s news came just in time for many of her members that were teetering on the brink.

“We know that we’re not going back to the same (level of) business overnight, but to put them in a position where they can generate revenues … I think was the right thing for the government to do.”

Haunted Walks plans ‘bubble’ tours

Local entrepreneur Glen Shackleton, the founder of Ottawa-based Haunted Walk, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the premier’s announcement. 

“I would’ve thought it might have been another couple weeks or that in a worst-case scenario we might have to wait to stage three to be allowed to reopen,” said Shackleton, who was forced to lay off about 100 tour guides when the province ordered most businesses that catered to the public to close in mid-March.

“It seems logical to me. I’m glad that (the government) recognized that.”

Beginning Friday night, Haunted Walk will be offering 75-minute outdoor “bubble tours” that will be limited to eight people from no more than two households. Guides will be equipped with masks, while other participants will be encouraged to bring their own facegear and will be required to maintain two metres of separation from each other. 

“We’re leaving room for the ghosts between us,” Shackleton quipped.

Even with little in the way of out-of-town tourism expected for at least a while, he said he expects to see a steady stream of local residents itching to get out of the house after nearly three months in forced isolation. 

“I think (a night out) is pretty precious for people right now,” Shackleton said, adding he expects to hire back a handful of local guides to start.

Fellow tourism entrepreneur Maria Rasouli, owner of Escape Bicycle Tours & Rentals, said she’s been waiting anxiously for the green light to reopen her business. Although she’s brought in a bit of money from renting out her bikes, she said overall revenues have skidded 95 per cent since the lockdown began and she’s had to let go of all but one of her employees.

“It’s a huge relief, for sure,” she said of Monday’s announcement.

Patio season

For local chef Mark Steele, who owns two OCCO Kitchen restaurants in downtown Ottawa and Orl​éans, the capital’s move to stage two means he’ll be able to shift his plans to open a patio in the parking lot of his east-end location into high gear pending his landlord’s approval.

“I always look for the silver lining, and I’ll tell you, I was looking pretty hard the last couple of months,” said Steele, who’s kept his downtown restaurant in the Albert at Bay Suite Hotel closed throughout the lockdown while offering takeout service at his Orl​éans bar and eatery on Innes Road. 

Construction on Bay Street means the downtown restaurant will probably remain dark for a while, but Steele said he’ll be happy for any additional income he can muster from the Orl​éans location, where he’s aiming to have outdoor seating for about 100 patrons.  

“Anything that inches us closer to normalcy is definitely welcome,” he said, adding he’s hoping to rehire about 20 of the more than 100 employees he laid off in March once the patio is up and running.

Shackleton agreed. While he still can’t offer indoor tours and the business likely won’t be operating anywhere near full capacity for a while, he said he’s just glad to be back in business, period.

“It’s just nice to have a bit of good news for a change,” he said. “It’s definitely invigorating for all of us to be able to see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.”

– With a report by Peter Kovessy