’I don’t want to see us slide backwards’: London businesses navigate reopening after lockdown

FILE. nazar_ab via Getty Images

London businesses are adjusting to the new normal as the region moves from lockdown back into the red zone of Ontario’s coronavirus response framework.

The move to allow for cautious reopening has garnered a mix of responses from local businesses, with some feeling it’s still too restrictive and others voicing concern about a rebound in case counts.

Vanessa Brown and Jason Dickson, co-owners of Brown and Dickson Books in downtown London say they would rather be more cautious to keep everyone safe.

“I know a lot of small business owners have objected. It’s almost a cliche that big box stores are open and small businesses can’t, but to me the solution is to limit the big box stores, not to reopen everything,” Brown said.

“I don’t want to see us slide backwards.”

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Read more: London’s mayor credits community resiliency during State of the City address

Early on in the pandemic, the couple said they found a way to adapt to an online and delivery model which allowed them to reach more people.

“We started doing delivery aggressively and weirdly started selling to parts of London that would not normally come downtown,” Dickson said.

Although businesses are allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity the two say they plan to only let customers into the store with an appointment to ensure safety.

Under the red zone, all gatherings are limited to five people indoors and 25 people outdoors, while stores that primarily sell produce are allowed to operate at 75 per cent capacity, and other retailers are allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity.

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The case count in London has been relatively low over the last few weeks with numbers around the 30 mark or lower, compared to January when daily cases rang in at 100 or more.

Read more: Coronavirus: Health minister says Ontario not ready to release more detailed COVID-19 vaccine plan

For some, the move to red — one of the most restive levels — is not enough to rebuild the local economy.

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“I think something other than red would have been better for us because red restricts restaurants and so forth. W do need body count, we need people mobile, fully out and about,” said David E. White, owner of Dave E White men’s clothier and barbershop.

White said throughout lockdown they were doing some online business but it was not enough. Eleven months into COVID-19 restrictions and he says the “dysfunction is profound.”

“We need to get out of red and into orange and hopefully into green, everything is out of a context of safety, but we do need to get our local economy functioning again.”

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For White what has made the difference is the support from the community.

“What we are getting is some very loyal people saying ‘how can we help out,’” he said. “It puts a smile on our face, the sense of community.”

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Read more: Boler Mountain slopes to reopen on Feb. 16

Among other businesses reopening Tuesday is Boler Mountain.

The beloved London ski hill officially opened its season at 8 a.m. after being delayed at least two months due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We were really excited because we have two 90-year-old pass holders we allowed to have the first chair,” manager Mart Thody said.

“It was pretty emotional. All the people coming out were so excited and happy they are able to get out and enjoy the sport they love so much.”

Boler is booking in 15-minute intervals on a four-hour lift ticket to ensure not too many people are on the mountain at once and are communicating COVID-19 policies with those attending.

Read more: Majority of Canadians blame feds, not provinces, for vaccine delays: poll

Other businesses reopening as the lockdown is lifted include Gateway Casinos’ locations in Sarnia, Point Edward, Chatham, London, Woodstock.

Starting Tuesday at noon the Casinos will operate using the reservation system introduced as part of the original re-opening of these properties last October.

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Due to the continued 50-customer capacity restrictions, the company said properties will only be open to invited My Club Rewards members at this time.

More information on all business reopening can be found on their websites.

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