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Durham business owners welcome Phase 1 reopening amid coronavirus pandemic

Durham business owners open under Phase 1 of Ontario's reopening plan.
Durham business owners open under Phase 1 of Ontario's reopening plan. Frazer Snowdon

Business owners in Durham Region were able to throw open their doors Tuesday as it was the first official business day of the provincial reopening plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s fantastic,” says Sandra Welch, who owns an eyelash artist supply store, Lashes by Design, in Whitby.

“A couple of my customers have tried to talk to me as we do curbside, but it’s just a different experience in the store.”

Welch is one of thousands of business owners now able to open their retail shops after being shut down by COVID-19 precautions. Now they can run their storefronts with strict guidelines in place.

“I have my hand sanitizer and we have to wipe down the doorknobs,” says Welch, who opened her doors Tuesday morning. “There are six-feet stickers on the floor to allow for proper spacing between customers.”

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Business owners must have proper personal protective equipment (PPE) in place for staff and customers, along with the ability to allow social distancing within their store.

READ MORE: ‘A critical transition’ — Stage 1 of Ontario’s gradual reopening begins Tuesday

Welch has been running the supply store for seven years. She although it was tough at first, but since the government announcement about Phase 1, she has seen a huge uptick in business and a renewed hope in her customers.

“I think it sent a huge signal to lash artists that we would open and now what they’re doing is they are stocking up.”

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But it’s not going well for everyone.

“It’s discouraging, it’s a little discouraging, but I have to stay positive,” says Myra Flieler, who owns Jayne Boutique in downtown Whitby.

“I was doing well before the pandemic,” says Flieler.

The store owner just started her fashion shop in December, then was forced to close her doors when coronavirus precautions were put in place. She says being able to bring customers into her store is a huge benefit compared to curbside pickup.

“It’s hard for me to curbside pickup. People have to try on clothes, so this will really help me,” says Flieler.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus — What you can and cannot do in Ontario amid Phase 1 of reopening

Whitby’s Business Improvement Area says having this next phase is giving owners a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.

“It’s a big sigh of relief,” says BIA executive director Karey Anne Large. “They’re hoping to get back to somewhat of normalcy, recoup some of the costs they’ve lost over the last two months.”

But a number of storefronts are still closed, including the spa industry — a business that directly impacts Welch’s supply store.

“The one that’s more important is the hair salons opening, nail salons, the lash shops. Because I can provide them all the lashes I want, but if they don’t have customers, there won’t be any repeat orders.”

It’s the kind of challenge all businesses are facing as they strive to get back to normal.