COVID-19: Ontario’s reopen plan receives mixed reaction from Kingston businesses

Click to play video: '1000 Islands, Gananoque Chamber of Commerce Executive Director calls for more business support with provincial reopen plan set to begin this June'
1000 Islands, Gananoque Chamber of Commerce Executive Director calls for more business support with provincial reopen plan set to begin this June
WATCH: Non-essential retailers could open their doors to shoppers mid-June – May 26, 2021

Ontario’s stay-at-home order is set to end on June 2, and that starts the clock ticking on the provincial government’s three-stage reopening plan.

The first stage, tentatively set to come into effect June 14, would allow outdoor dining with a limit of four people per table, and non-essential retail stores to open at 15-per cent capacity.

Cheryl Walker, the owner of Cloth, a women’s clothing store in downtown Kingston, says she thinks the province could afford to start opening up a little earlier than mid-June.

Walker says the 15-per cent capacity translates into about four customers in her store at any given time, and even though she’s done well with curbside pickup, online orders and delivery, in-store shopping is a difference-maker.

“They want to touch and feel the clothing, they want to try it on, you know, and then take it home,” said Walker.

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“So obviously if we were open, we’re going to do much much better.”

Oscar Malan, owner of Novel Idea, Kingston’s independent book store, calls the last 15 months of owning a business during the pandemic a game of work that’s been twice as hard to make half as much.

When it comes to opening his store’s doors in a couple of weeks, he says the provincial government’s communication and messaging has been poor.

“They’ve been so intermittent and they’ve changed their mind so often that I’ve basically stopped looking,” Malan said, referring to the province’s three-step reopening plan.

“I’m just going to open when they make it clear that I can open, because frankly I’ve been disappointed a couple of times already.”

Each stage with progressively loosening restrictions is a minimum of 21 days long and requires vaccination benchmarks and what the provincial government is calling positive trends in public health and health system indicators.

Personal care settings like hair salons and cruise lines won’t open until stage two coming into effect the first week of July at the earliest.

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1000 Islands Gananoque Chamber of Commerce executive director Amy Kirkland says the shortened tourism season and limited capacity numbers will be difficult for operators a second season in a row.

“Gananoque, Kingston and Rockport boat lines (are) running at 52 people with a capacity of 500, so here is the issue — there is nothing helping them,” said Kirkland.

She says that’s why they’ve been lobbying their member of Parliament, Michael Barrett, to have the Canada Emergency Business Account loans changed to grants for businesses that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Kirkland says both the 1000 Islands, Gananoque and Ontario Chambers of Commerce would also like to see a third round of grants from the provincial government as well.

“Those grant opportunities have kept doors open,” said Kirkland. “When you get 10 to $20,000 and you’re able to pay your rent, mortgages and basic bills it really does come in handy.”

The province’s third reopening step, which would allow indoor dining along with opening museums galleries and libraries, in a best case scenario, won’t kick in until late July or early August.

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