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Far from business as usual as Stage 3 hits Owen Sound

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Most of Ontario moved into Stage 3 of the provincial government’s COVID-19 recovery plan Friday. For some in Owen Sound, that meant getting back into a routine.

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Owen Sound Fitness and Training owner Joshua Burnett opened his doors to the public at 5:30 a.m. Friday, exactly four months after he was made to shut down the building amid the COVID-19 emergency orders.

“People were pretty fired up to get back in here and get back to it,” Burnett said by phone Friday morning.

Earlier this week the rules for Stage 3 of the recovery plan were announced by Premier Doug Ford. Those rules came into effect Friday. Restaurants were once again allowed to serve patrons inside. Gyms and theatres could open their doors, and most public spaces were available for outdoor recreational use.

Gathering limits were raised to a maximum of 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

Owen Sound and Kincardine were among municipalities that  announced on their social media feeds that play structures were again open for use Friday.

However, just because establishments could open Friday didn’t mean everyone was in a rush to get back to business as usual.

Kris Heathers wasn’t ready to let customers back inside her popular Springmount diner Friday, and she said some patrons of Elsie’s Diner made it known they were quite happy to stay out on the new patio for the time being.

Restaurants have been able to provide takeout and delivery services throughout the pandemic and could open up outdoor patios during Stage 2 of the province’s recovery plan.

In Owen Sound and Meaford, downtown restaurants were allowed to block off street parking to create patio space where none was available before.

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Heathers and her team at Elsie’s Diner created a licensed patio just beside their restaurant with picnic tables when the Stage 2 rules were announced.

“We have had great success with the patio,” Heathers said. “It’s a big step and people are happy to be outside for now.”

Heathers said she plans to open soon, but wanted to hire back some staff and make sure the restaurant is following all of the government’s Stage 3 rules before committing to a date.

The restaurant can hold 18 tables inside, but with the two-metre physical distancing requirement, that number will need to come down.

“We are certainly anxious to get there,” Heathers said. “We want to make sure we’re following all of the rules, and we just don’t feel like we’re quite there yet.”

Heathers expected it will take a week or two before meals are served indoors again at Elsie’s.

Dr. Ian Arra, the region’s medical officer of health said Friday that the bulk of the work currently underway at the Grey Bruce Health Unit is coordinating with local business owners to help them understand the new reopening rules and to help them safely reopen with the necessary modifications.

The slow-and-steady approach has been adopted by other local establishments. Both the Galaxy Cinema in Owen Sound and the casino in Hanover let Friday’s Stage 3 kick-off pass without reopening. Spokespeople from both companies said earlier this week that they are reviewing the government’s Stage 3 proposals and will prioritize the health and safety of their staff and customers in any plans to reopen.

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John Schnurr, owner of The Bowling Alley in Owen Sound, said he doesn’t plan to reopen his multi-purpose entertainment facility until September at the earliest.

At Owen Sound Fitness and Training, Burnett said he was enjoying the positive energy and the busiest morning his gym had experienced in a long time.

Burnett said between 15 and 20 people had already passed through the gym’s door before 7 a.m.

He’s had to rope off about 50 per cent of the cardio equipment and make changes to the layout of the gym to help ensure people keep their distance.

“It will just be about people getting into new habits,” Burnett said about the gym’s new reality amid the COVID-19 preventative measures.

Despite having to shut down in March, Burnett kept up his business with his members by offering outdoor classes and even renting out the gym’s equipment for people to use at home. Burnett said he invested almost $20,000 into the gym during the downtime in new equipment and materials.

“This is what I’ve been working to my whole adult life, to create and grow this,” he said. “I took a financial hit, but I’m keeping a positive mindset.”

He said having people back at the gym Friday felt like things were starting to get back to normal.

“The smiles we saw, the positive energy was just incredible,” Burnett said. “People were saying they missed the atmosphere. They missed the smell even.”

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