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Word of the next step in the reopening of the provincial economy is being greeted with optimism by merchants who call the downtown Sydney shopping district their business home.
The provincial government announced Wednesday that June 5 would be the calendar date when shop owners required to close during the pandemic could again open their doors to the general public.
Hair salons, fitness facilities and restaurants are among the large variety of shops now preparing to welcome customers back with some restrictions.
That was welcome news for those at Governor’s Pub and Eatery on Thursday where they had coincidentally just opened a limited take out menu.
Owner Ardon Mofford said they’ll be ready to follow new guidelines on June 5 that will let them fill to 50 per cent of their seating capacity.
“We already did the plan just being proactive and watching what was happening in PEI and New Brunswick,” said Mofford.
“Then, we did a space count and we are reducing our capacity to 50 per cent and treating the pub as a dining room rather than a lounge.”
When counting patio space, he said there will be plenty of places for people to dine in but the people of Cape Breton should still start to rethink their approach to dining out.
“People aren’t in the pattern of making reservations. Everybody wants to eat at 7 p.m., so we feed 300-400 people in an hour and a half and we are run off our feet when there’s this span from 5-9:30 p.m. where you could fill in a lot of people,” he said.
“We are just kind of educating our customers to work around the restaurant schedule, rather than your own, and we should be able to accommodate everyone that wants to come in.”
Bowden’s Jewellery Repair Studio also opened its Charlotte Street storefront this week as more signs of activity in the downtown core continue to emerge.
“It was a long time coming. And I knew we had to wait and if we had to wait longer we would have,” said owner Rob Bowden.
“We seem to be heading in that direction and as long as we can do it safely we have to try. What’s the alternative?”
Like every other business in the current economic climate, the opening comes with new and renewed safety measures. At Bowden’s, that has meant a preference for customer appointments, one person at a time allowed in-store, and a safety barrier.
During the store’s downtime, Bowden said he had a ‘super understanding’ landlord, and reasonable bills, while his only employee qualified for government benefits.
He, however, fell through the cracks of any financial assistance. He’s not bitter — just very excited to see customers again.
When reopening, businesses must still follow protocols tailored to their sector of the economy, including following public health protocols to ensure physical distancing, increased cleaning and other protective measures.
Even with restrictions, a June 5 opening is seen as a step in the right direction by downtown merchants.
“I don’t even know how to word how much the merchants I’ve spoken really care about their customers and are extremely mindful of creating a safe space,” said Michelle Wilson, executive director of the Sydney Downtown Development Association.
“Our downtown is all about that personalized experience, so the ones that I’ve been speaking to are really thinking outside of the box and trying to find creative ways to still create that experience but also create an extra safe environment.”
Over the next number of weeks, she said the role of the association will be to help merchants to better understand the new regulations as well as getting the message out to consumers that the downtown is open for business again.
As part of those roles, she hopes those who made a switch to online shopping while stuck at home will return to local merchants as restrictions ease.
“When I had my store, depending on the time of year, I had people coming in weekly or daily with donation letters,” the former dress shop owner recalled.
“It’s often our small businesses that can make that decision on a dime and say ‘here’s an item or here’s a gift card.’ At times, I’m sure they’ve given cash.”
Wilson hopes people remember the small businesses across the municipality that they have supported are also part of a vibrant overall community and now need the support of others as the economy rebuilds.