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Coronavirus: Downtown Winnipeg reopening, but businesses still facing challenges

Coronavirus: Downtown Winnipeg reopening, but businesses still facing challenges
Downtown Winnipeg is back up and running as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, with about three-quarters of area businesses open in some capacity. Global's Joe Scarpelli explains.
Downtown Winnipeg is back up and running as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, with about three-quarters of area businesses open in some capacity.
Downtown Winnipeg BIZ executive director Kate Fenske says optimism is up among business owners, but in order to keep things on the right track long-term, downtown’s shops and restaurants need office workers to come back to the area.

“If we don’t see those numbers come back in the fall for the downtown workers — that really is their primary customer base — it’s going to be a challenge,” Fenske told 680 CJOB.

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“When we look at what kind of downtown do we want when we come out of this pandemic … it is something that is vibrant.”

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Fenske said only a small number of downtown businesses have closed permanently due to the coronavirus crisis, and businesses generally feel they’ve made it past the worst economic effects of COVID-19.

“When we surveyed members back in April, looking at the optimism of, ‘if things don’t change, how long do you think you could stay open?’… and only 19 per cent of businesses downtown thought they could survive past a year. That number, in June, jumped to 65 per cent.”

Read more: No new Manitoba coronavirus cases Tuesday, City of Winnipeg recalling some employees

Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Loren Remillard told 680 CJOB his organization started bringing staff back into the office at the beginning of June but took a staggered approach.
Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Loren Remillard.
Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Loren Remillard. Twitter / Loren Remillard
“I think many businesses are saying, ‘let’s not rush to have everyone back in the office for July — let’s plan for everyone to be back in the office for September,'” he said.“It allows those organizations, property owners and companies to really scope out how best to go about preparing for September, when the vast majority of workers will be back downtown.”
Coronavirus: Pallister says Manitoba in ‘strongest economic recovery position’ of any province
Coronavirus: Pallister says Manitoba in ‘strongest economic recovery position’ of any province

Remillard praised the province’s low coronavirus numbers — Manitoba had a full week without any new COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday — and said local businesses are doing their part to keep the number of cases down.

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“I think Manitobans are to be congratulated, but I wouldn’t say it’s a cautious approach… I would say a responsible approach,” he said.

“Everyone’s doing their part to ensure that Manitoba becomes the envy of the country.

“I think the frustration that some businesses are experiencing is that we have been doing a great job, and businesses are doing everything — and then some — to ensure the safety of their workplace and their customers… and yet there’s still some reticence from the general public to engage with the economy.”

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