Frustration for Owen Sound business operators forced to close again

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Owen Sound business owners forced to shut down once again said they are feeling frustrated and tired, but remain hopeful there is light at the end of the very long tunnel.

Under the provincewide 28-day emergency brake shutdown, which came into effect Friday at midnight, in-person shopping is still being permitted at reduced capacities at most retail stores, but personal care services like hair salons, tattoo parlours and gyms are closed. Restaurants and cafes are allowed to offer takeout, drive-through and delivery, with indoor and outdoor dining prohibited.

“It is unfortunate. I think that especially in this area that most of the places are set up and following protocols that I think the risk is quite limited, however it is what it is,” said Dave Parsons, chair of the Owen Sound Downtown Improvement Area board of directors and owner of Parsons Foto Source. “When we are open and other places are not you also get them coming here. You don’t want that happening either.”

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The province implemented the new measures in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, which is seeing a resurgence with more easily transmissible variants of concern, which has left hospital intensive care units in Ontario at their fullest since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

Parsons said for the latest shutdown, he has heard of some businesses, such as restaurants, that have outright closed with plans to only reopen when the feeling is that the pandemic is over, rather than try to pivot and offer only takeout and delivery again.

“They have had enough and I can’t blame them,” Parsons said. “Those of us who can operate either through our website and through curbside and still get rid of some of our product are not nearly as affected, and that isn’t to say our sales are what they were a year or two ago, but at least we can get along.”

Megan Gillespie, owner of Creative Hairstyling in downtown Owen Sound, had to close outright because the service she offers involves direct interaction with the public.

She said Saturday that she is frustrated by the latest closure, but she saw it coming, even though it came fast.

Grey-Bruce was in the least restrictive green zone in the province’s colour-coded COVID-19 response framework when the hammer came down provincewide on Thursday.

Gillespie said that for months she has been turning away customers from other areas who have been making it clear that they were only coming to the area for a service they couldn’t get in their home region.

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“I don’t understand why people just won’t stay home,” said Gillespie, who added that she knows people are sick of the restrictions, have cottages and enjoy travel but it is important to separate “wants” from “needs.”

“For the last year all I have been trying to do is keep my staff and my clients safe, but it is getting harder and harder to do that because we are turning away multiple amounts of people from other areas weekly.”

Gillespie said she understands why her business cannot be open. Public health protocols have always been a major aspect of her business, much like restaurants and gyms.

“I know in my heart that I have done everything I possibly can to keep my staff and my clients safe and that has been my all-time goal through all of it,” she said.

“In salons we are in too close of contact for too long. Even a men’s haircut is 15 minutes and with these new variants it is too long to be side-by-side.”

Gillespie said each time she has come out of a lockdown she has started planning for the next one. She has been working long hours so she has enough rent saved up to hold her over for months, but she feels for those who haven’t been able to do the same. She also feels bad for her staff and her clients, particularly those who had major events planned like weddings or anniversaries. But she is hopeful there is an end in sight.

“Restaurants, gyms and personal care services, we work for the people and all we want to do is be there for people,” said Gillespie. “I can’t cure COVID, I can’t help somebody if they are dying, but when it comes to the mental health side and making people feel good and being there for people to listen to them, that is what I am here for and I feel like I can’t do that and help people that way if I am not behind my chair.”

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“It is a hard battle but we have to stay positive.”

Josh Burnett, owner of Owen Sound Fitness and Training, said he understands the importance of protecting people’s health as he has loved ones in health care, is a registered kinesiologist and is in the business of healthy living, but said it is difficult having to shut down his business again.

“We have basically been closed six months of the past year and that is not great,” said Burnett.

He said  he could have safely operated his gym with all the health and safety measures around sanitizing and screening that have already been implemented along with additional physical distancing and staggered scheduling.

“It would be very simple,” he said. “Even as a bare minimum why not say a gym can be open but you have to be working one-on-one with a personal trainer.

“We have four personal trainers and four clients so at max you have eight people in there in a 6,000-square-foot gym.”

Burnett said this third shutdown has been the most difficult emotionally, likely due to the frustration of having to do it all again and seeing so many others around him upset.

“People don’t realize how important the gym is for mental health,” said Burnett. “I think the government is maybe sometimes missing that as well.”

He also feels horrible for the staff he has been forced to lay off.

“They are not just staff, they are my friends and we are a team,” said Burnett. “It feels awful to have to do that.”

Burnett has been taking the same steps for his members as he did during past shutdowns. They are lending out equipment and are providing personalized and at-home workouts.

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Burnett said the support he keeps getting from members and others has been absolutely incredible.

“We have worked hard to really develop a strong community at our gym,” said Burnett, adding almost all members have been keeping their membership going through the lockdowns.

Birgit Wright, who operates Birgit’s Bakery Cafe on 2nd Avenue East, said she was feeling conflicted on Saturday about the latest shutdown.

“We understand why, it is just the feeling of ‘more of this,’” Wright said.

“We started with takeout so we are just back into takeout mode again, and we have really upped our game with pastries so people can come and get a box of pastries and take them home.”

Wright said she was surprised at how quickly the shutdown came this time around.

“Even though it got really relaxed and into green, we kept everything at kind of orange anyway,” said Wright. “We just didn’t want to get too liberal and it worked great, and then another hiccup, but we will get through it.”

Wright said she has noticed the shutdown has been an adjustment for customers too. She said some walked into the cafe on Saturday, saw the sign that they are unable to sit down and walked back out again. She looks forward to be able to welcome them into the cafe again for a meal once it is permitted.

“Because there is a vaccine and people are getting it, that does bring a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Wright. “I think the wildcard is the variants and if the vaccines are really going to be able to fight those as well.”

She said the community has stepped up and supported local business through the previous shutdowns and she expects the same this time around. The last few days prior to the shutdown were very busy and the demand for takeout was picking up on Saturday.

“We have loyal customers and we try to take care of everybody because we appreciate the fact they do come out,” she said. “And they appreciate us because they don’t want to stay home completely all the time.”

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