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Seasonal businesses across P.E.I. try to salvage 2020 season as they adjust to new normal

Joey's Deep Sea Fishing in Rusticoville had a great 2019, and the owners were hoping to repeat it this year. But, as the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) spread, operators began to worry they would lose the season.
Joey's Deep Sea Fishing in Rusticoville had a great 2019, and the owners were hoping to repeat it this year. But, as the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) spread, operators began to worry they would lose the season. - Contributed



Seasonal business owners are anticipating a new normal as more coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) restrictions are lifted.

Mary Webster, a dairy bar and accommodations operator in Chelton, said she saw her income disappear when the pandemic hit Canada.

"I've lost my year's income, basically, if we stay shut. People have been cancelling reservations, and I'm facing the decision to open the stand to usual capacity (and) have different services.”

Webster has operated Madame Moo's dairy bar the past three years. In addition to serving ice cream, it supplied local produce, milk, eggs and other necessities to area residents and people passing through the community. 

Before Phase 1 of reopening began, people asked Webster if she would open this summer. 

But, with a family of her own, she was worried about bringing COVID-19 into her home or place of business and have it spread. 

"Customer health and safety is first, and a lot of customers understand that."

Mary Webster expects a new normal for business operators and customers as more businesses open up and adjust during the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic. - Millicent McKay
Mary Webster expects a new normal for business operators and customers as more businesses open up and adjust during the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic. - Millicent McKay

 

With that in mind, Webster said a closed-off Island summer with locals supporting each other is something she'd like to see as she prepares to open.

"It could be a beautiful summer with just the family, the Islanders,” she said. 

"My big worry with opening up too soon ... (is) we've been extremely fortunate. For many people who come to the Island, it's a big trip and we have a beautiful Island, but if people come and we don't offer the whole wonderful experience, will that damage our reputation in the long run?" 

However, she is hoping that won't happen and that as more businesses start to open, the public will stand by operators as they adjust to make their business work. 

"It's going to be a lot of experimentation on how small and seasonal businesses can operate during the pandemic. There might be more wait time … but try to be patient with us during our new normal."

After a great season last year, the operators of Joey's Deep Sea Fishing in Rusticoville were hoping for a repeat performance this year. 

Julie Ann Gauthier with her father Joey. Joey started Joey's Deep Sea Fishing in 1978. - Contributed photo
Julie Ann Gauthier with her father Joey. Joey started Joey's Deep Sea Fishing in 1978. - Contributed photo

Julie Ann Gauthier and her brother took over the 42-year-old business in 2019. It was previously operated by their father, Joey. 

"We ran seven days a week, three trips a day with two boats. We felt close to capacity last year and (there were) a few days we had to turn people away but help them find other companies that had room."

The company also offers a lobster fish and feast option where it partners with a restaurant and provides patrons with a fishing experience from the sea to the plate. Trips for the deep sea tour, which includes fishing for cod and mackerel, have about 20 people on board. The fish and feast trips range from four to 12 participants. 

"Education is a huge aspect of what people were looking for,” Gauthier said. “It's a big time and our crew loves it, too."

As restrictions were put in place due to the coronavirus, Gauthier said she and the crew went through multiple stages of grief. 

"Obviously, the closer we continue to get to the season, the more answers we get. We respect and understand the decisions of the government."

She said there had been a number of reservations booked already because people were planning their vacations. 

"They've been slowly cancelling if they find out their accommodations aren't opening."

While the company usually starts on July 2, Gauthier is hopeful they'll be able to have boats on the water later in the season. 

"We're taking steps to be ready. We've been getting approvals and ducks in a row if we find out we can go forward."

They operate rain or shine and are trying to determine if they will work full time or only on certain days. 

She said getting tourists and Islanders to support businesses this season will come down to the messaging. It could still be really great, even if it is just a "staycation”, she said. 

"It might allow people to see things they wouldn't otherwise. Or, for some operators, it might be an opportunity for them to check out the nooks and crannies,” Gauthier added.

"We all have such pride in what we can offer. COVID-19 won't take that away from us. I'm blessed with the ability to look on the bright side. So, it's a question of what can we do, rather than what we cannot."


Retail boardwalk locations on the Island prepare to open 


Boardwalk operators are preparing to open for the summer season under the directives of the Chief Public Health Office. 

Arnold Croken, who is with the Port of Summerside, said the organization has been working closely with the health office to open Spinnakers' Landing and to operate the port's dredging program on schedule. 

Spinnakers' Landing is located on Summerside's waterfront. - Jason Malloy
Spinnakers' Landing is located on Summerside's waterfront. - Jason Malloy

 

Croken said when the landing opens, it will be up to individual tenants to establish how they will meet the conditions of social distancing and other measures. Some tenants also might not be able to get into the province to operate their businesses, said Croken. 

On the boardwalk, port staff have set up signs and indicators for people, reminding them of the conditions in place in response to COVID-19. 

Peter Fullerton, the property manager of the Cavendish Boardwalk and Avonlea Village, said the planned opening date is June 19. 

"The goal is to make it a survival season," said Fullerton. 

If the borders stay closed, it will impact the businesses at the boardwalk, Fullerton said, but he hopes people will take advantage of the staycation and possible bubble travel with New Brunswick.


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