Whether it was for a pint on the patio or a new pair of underpants, many Owen Sound businesses catered to the needs of their customers face-to-face Friday for the first time in months.
Ontario entered Step One of the government’s Roadmap to Reopen plan just after midnight early Friday morning.
For most, reopening meant outdoor dining and popping out for non-essential items were back on the table for the first time since April 8 when a provincewide stay-at-home order was issued.
A long line snaked outside of the Winners and Homesense, even during a steady drizzle, and nearly 10 people were enjoying the patio at Jazzmyn’s in downtown Owen Sound early Friday afternoon.
A trio of friends, Richard Major, Bill Wright and Jeff McCallum, said meeting at the patio was a regular occurrence before the provincewide stay-at-home order. They were happy to be “back at the office”, Major said.
“It’s really nice. It’s nice to get back to some sense of normalcy,” McCallum added.
The Jazzmyn’s patio was fully booked for Friday night.
With fewer new COVID-19 infections, increased vaccinations, and a drop in COVID-19 related hospitalizations throughout the province, officials decided to loosen some of the public health measures in place for nearly two months.
As of Friday morning, outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people were permitted. A group of up to four people per table could eat and drink together outdoors.
Non-essential retail stores were able to reopen at 15 per cent capacity and outdoor sports fields were open to groups of no more than 10 for training.
Downtown Owen Sound merchant Dave Parsons, who owns Parsons Foto Source and chairs the Owen Sound Downtown Improvement Area board of directors said the stay-at-home order actually improved business for his shop.
“We’ve done quite well through COVID. I think there were a lot of people at home thinking ‘what am I going to do now?’ And doing projects they haven’t had time to do in the past,” Parsons said. “We’ve been open three days a week and have found we’re doing the same amount of business in three days that we were doing in six.”
He said 20 per cent of the business is online anyway, and he was able to answer the phones and be adaptable to the customers’ needs during the provincewide shutdown.
“Even the food businesses who have embraced this, the ones who have gone online and did what they need to do, some are busier than they were under pre-pandemic conditions,” Parsons said. “Quite a number of businesses have changed their mode of operation.”
For the Habitat for Humanity ReStores in Owen Sound, Hanover and Port Elgin, a curbside pick-up option didn’t make sense – or a lot of money.
Executive director Greg Fryer said the ReStore tried curbside pick-up during the first provincewide shutdown over a year ago, and it didn’t work out.
“Most of our customers want to come in and see our items because a lot of our stuff is one-of-a-kind and unique. They want to see the condition of them as well,” he said. “We tried curbside and we have very limited results, especially with all the effort that had to go into it.”
The ReStore locations in Owen Sound and Hanover reopened Friday. The location in Port Elgin remains closed while renovations are completed and staff hired.
Fryer said the ReStores, which fund the administration costs of the home-building charity, made no income during the stay-at-home order. Staff were laid off, although some worked part-time to handle donations.
Financial donations are down too as the charity has struggled to hold its typical build day and golf tournament fundraisers with the provincial restrictions in place.
“We’re fortunate we are able to qualify for the province’s small-business grant, that helped us, and the federal government’s wage subsidy for the five of us who could still work during the lockdown, that helped us,” Fryer said. “We’re going to have to find ways to raise more money.”
Overnight camping was also permitted to begin Friday with reservations. Outdoor pools, splash pads and wading pools could open as well.
Indoor weddings, funerals and other religious rites and ceremonies are now allowed up to 15 per cent capacity.
Brent Fisher, Owen Sound’s manager of community development and marketing said the province’s reopening coincides with the implementation of the city’s River District Action Plan – a three-year joint city and Downtown Improvement Area plan. The four pillars of the plan are River District promotion, River District experience development, River District management and branding.
As part of the plan, a new website is being designed, social media channels are being rebranded, new River District banners and light standards will be installed later this month, River District branding will be applied to wayfinding signage, as will new sidewalk and street decal activities for families.
The Music at the Market concert series will take place at the Farmers’ Market square Thursdays and Fridays when regulations permit from noon to 2 p.m. Outdoor movie nights will also take place there on August 12, 19 and 26.
Those looking for a trim around the ears, or a trip to an amusement park will need to wait at least 21 more days according to the province’s plan.
As well, 70 per cent of adults in Ontario will need at least one dose of the vaccine with 20 per cent needing to be fully vaccinated before Ontario is ready for Step Two.
As of Friday morning, nearly 74 per cent of adults in Ontario (18+) had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine with 12.6 per cent fully vaccinated.
New variants of concern, such as the Delta variant first identified in India, could also throw a wrench into the government’s reopening plan.
A region in northern Ontario held off on entering Step One with the rest of the province Friday as a variant-fuelled outbreak surges through the population.
The Porcupine Health Unit was reporting over 300 active cases as of Friday morning and has ordered a lockdown continue for an area that covers Timmins, Kapuskasing, Hearst, Cochrane, Iroquois Falls and the remote communities of the James Bay Coast.