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Some Ontario businesses prepare to reopen after struggling to survive long-running lockdown

Many Ontario businesses are preparing to reopen with some limitations after a frustrating period of ever-changing pandemic restrictions affecting retailers and services that were deemed non-essential.

As the province moves into the first stage of its three-stage reopening plan on Friday, some owners say they’ve had to take an innovative approach to survive and to serve their customers in person again.

Debrah Menashy, owner of Loft Cycle Club Inc. in Toronto will be starting outdoor spin classes, which will be limited to just nine riders and take place in a parking lot near the city’s Broadview and Danforth avenues.

“This way of working out required some creativity, and cash,” she said, including the cost of renting a parking lot and setting up a storage container for the bikes, as well as buying wireless headphones, “so the whole neighbourhood doesn’t have to hear each class.”

“[It’s been] almost 16 months of not being able to operate, we’re just so excited to be outside to do something,” she said as she tested the equipment this week.

Scott MacKillop, owner of Barely Bruised Books in Ottawa, is also ready to reopen and recalled the many sacrifices he made during the lockdowns that were imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The store had to cancel its open-mic poetry night, live music, an Indigenous book club called All Nations and its philosophy group meetings.

Scott MacKillop, owner of Barely Bruised Books in Ottawa, is seen here with the store’s resident kitty, Milo. MacKillop says he’s spent tens of thousands of dollars setting up a website to sell his used books online during lockdown. (Brian Morris/CBC)

One of the biggest hassles has been getting a new website up and running to sell the store’s used books online. MacKillop said he’s spent more than $33,000 trying to stay in business, without generating much revenue in return.

“I spent all my savings,” he said.

Bars and restaurants in Toronto and other Ontario hot spots experienced a bit of whiplash in late March when patios were allowed to reopen — only to be forced to close again just days later.

The first stage in the province’s reopening plan means non-essential retail will be able to reopen at 15 per cent capacity. The plan also comes with other conditions:

  • Only stores with street access can welcome customers inside.
  • Stores inside malls have to stay closed.
  • Outdoor patio service will be allowed for up to four people per table, unless they’re from the same household.
  • Group exercise and day camps for children can also begin again.

Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, is calling on people to put pressure on the provincial government to “immediately open other low-risk businesses,” such as hair and nail salons.

Those businesses won’t be allowed to reopen until Step 2 of the plan, which is supposed to go into effect in early July.

In a tweet Thursday, Kelly said the province should also allow shops in malls to open, as other jurisdictions in Canada have done. He also said that “the world’s longest lockdown needs a faster end.”

At least one medical expert says businesses may now be able to escape the trend of one lockdown after another.

“The big difference is that we have vaccines,” said epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite from the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “We don’t have a fully vaccinated population yet, but we do have a lot of people with at least one dose of vaccine.

“And that’s a really important mitigation tool. It helps reduce transmission.”

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