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Winnipeg businesses prepare to reopen as province loosens COVID-19 restrictions

Michael Bumsted prepares for Whodunit Books to reopen, with significant public health restrictions.
Michael Bumsted prepares for Whodunit Books to reopen, with significant public health restrictions. Global News

Some Winnipeg businesses spent Sunday preparing to reopen this week — with strings attached — as the province begins to slacken restrictions it placed on non-essential services on April 1, shortly after COVID-19 arrived in Winnipeg.

Michael Bumsted, a bookseller at Whodunit Books on Lilac Street, spent the day finishing projects — changing displays and cleaning up — along with a staff member.

The store had planned on reopening later in May, Bumsted said, so Sunday was rushed.

“We’ll be measuring out space on the floor, and doing some social distancing, posting posters about those sorts of things that have been provided by the province, we’ll be making hand sanitizer stations,” he said of the public health protocols placed on businesses that can reopen this week. 

“We’ll be walking through everything we think will make the space — what we hope to be — safe and then we will monitor tomorrow to see how practical that is.”

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The small, independent bookstore also plans to limit the number of people allowed in the store even further than the provincial guidelines suggest — the government’s restriction is 50 per cent of normal business levels or one person per 10 square metres.

“We are going to be welcoming customers back in, in a much-reduced number,” Bumsted said. “We want first to make sure that the community around us are safe, and the health and safety of our staff, those two things are much more important to us than having any number of people in the store.”

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There are still unknowns Bumsted and the staff are concerned about amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We’re concerned … people aren’t going to take physical distancing seriously, we’re concerned about people who are not going to be taking appropriate precautions,” he said. “People like to touch books when they buy books — that’s something that we’re really going to have to figure out, once we try and reopen tomorrow, whether that’s something we’re going to feel comfortable with.”

The store also wants customers who are able to continue to place orders through its website, by email or over the phone, he said.

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“People are a bit more used to buying books online and people are used to needing books when they stay home — the fact that we had at least enough preparation to have an online book store in place, we’ve always had free delivery, we’ve done curbside collection in the past,” he said. “Those are things that are very helpful.”

That existing infrastructure has helped the business retain and gain customers through the past month of shutdowns, he said, while other businesses in the neighbourhood community suffered more.

Coronavirus outbreak: Manitoba announces gradual reopening of non-essential businesses, non-urgent medical procedures, outdoor spaces
Coronavirus outbreak: Manitoba announces gradual reopening of non-essential businesses, non-urgent medical procedures, outdoor spaces

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, Bar Italia was bolting in its patio — newly segmented.

“Basically instead of one large patio, we’re going to end up with two smaller ones and we have our third around the front, this way we can divide everyone up properly,” said Rhea Collison, an operating partner at the Corydon Avenue staple, adding the bar won’t allow standing on the patio.

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The bar and restaurant started serving takeout during the pandemic-induced shutdown.

“It will be different but you know it’s all perspective — you go from having a full business going to absolutely nothing, and wondering what’s going to happen, to a little reopening to now having a little bit more,” Collison said.

Collison sounded optimistic, adding she hopes the business can reopen some of its indoor seating in June when the province’s second phase of its reopening plan kicks in — as long as everyone follows the rules.