Some businesses wary about reopening as Ontario eases COVID-19 restrictions

Open for business

Businesses in some provinces spent the long weekend preparing to reopen ahead of an easing of restrictions aimed at curbing the COVID-19 pandemic, even as others said they're not yet ready to throw open their doors.

Ontario is starting the first stage of its economic reopening today, giving the green light to retailers, some sports centres, vehicle dealerships and other businesses to resume. The construction industry has also been given the go-ahead to resume operations, and some surgeries will be allowed to proceed.

But the provincial government stresses those businesses still have to comply with public health guidelines such as physical distancing as they welcome customers.

Some stores, however, said they're holding off on reopening their doors for now despite the provincial permission, citing health and financial concerns.

Peter Birkemoe, who owns The Beguiling comic book shop in Toronto, said the business has been doing well with online orders and, as of last week, curbside pickup. Safely reopening the store would take more resources to serve fewer customers, which would represent "a big step backwards," he said.

While he misses interacting with customers face to face, Birkemoe said it's not worth jeopardizing his health and that of his staff, or the work they're currently doing.

"I would really like to have that back, but not at the risk of the small part of my business that is actually working right now," he said.

Urban Gardener, a plant and garden store in west-end Toronto, said on social media that reopening now would feel "irresponsible" given that customers often spend more than an hour inside and are constantly touching the inventory.

"We need a bit more time to figure out how we can reorganize the shop to provide a safe (yet still browse-worthy!) experience for our customers," it said on Instagram.

Others said they're eager to open up shop again, but may need more time to prepare.

Stephen Yorke, who owns the Toronto record store Dead Dog Records, said he will reopen his store's two locations as soon as possible, but not until he can equip the cash area with plexiglass screens later this week.

Even then, the stores will only be able to accommodate two to four customers who will be supplied with latex gloves before they can do any browsing, he said. Staff will continue to sanitize common areas, including door pulls and card readers, he said.

A partial reopening is also expected Tuesday in British Columbia, but that hinges on businesses and organizations having plans that comply with provincial pandemic guidelines.

Renee Geraghty, the managing partner of AXIS Hair Salon in Vancouver, said the pandemic has upended the way the salon has operated for 30 years.

"There are some nerves," she said in an interview. "Nerves about team perception, client perception and safety."

Geraghty said the salon is also struggling to deal with a backlog of 800 appointments that had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"It's like funnelling six lanes of traffic into one," she said, noting the salon will be training staff on Tuesday with a tentative plan for a soft reopening Wednesday and Thursday.

In Quebec, the province removed more police checkpoints that have limited non-essential traffic to some regions, including the one between Ottawa and Gatineau.

Premier Francois Legault said Monday that the situation in the Greater Montreal area has stabilized enough to allow retail stores to open on May 25 as planned.

Daycares will open on June 1, with a limited number of spaces in order to meet distancing requirements, he said.