A new beginning for London, Ont. businesses as province allows reopening of patios, retail

Patio sign in downtown London, Ont., June 11, 2021 . Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

The countdown is over for patios and non-essential retail stores eager to reopen across most of Ontario amid easing COVID-19 public safety measures.

For London, Ont., patios, this feels like a new beginning.

“Every time we come out of lockdown, it feels like opening a brand new restaurant all over again,” said Adam Winkler, the owner of Winks Eatery.

“We’re trying to train everyone into the mindset that this reopening (is) one that we want to keep moving forward and hopefully we never look back again.”

As of Friday, patios are allowed to have up to four diners per table. Indoor dining is not yet permitted.

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Mike Smith, the owner of Joe Kool’s, Toboggan Brewing Company and Fellini Koolini’s says while he’s pumped to reopen, the restaurants are still dealing with staffing shortages.

Click to play video: 'Toronto chef appeals to the public in viral post to be gentle with restaurant staff during reopening'
Toronto chef appeals to the public in viral post to be gentle with restaurant staff during reopening

“There are people who have moved away and moved onto other careers,” he says. “Be patient with your servers, because a lot of people haven’t worked for a while.”

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Smith says pre-pandemic, the three restaurants employed a total of 200 staff members. Now, they’re down to about 35.

“This is a struggling (industry) … it’s very tough and there are people barely hanging on before (COVID-19). With restrictions, limitations and capacity problems, (it’s) going to take a while before we get to the way we operated before.”

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Winkler says his restaurant is also dealing with a staffing shortage.

“We’ve hired two new kitchen (workers), two security and three servers just this week,” he says, adding that the patio has been extended into the parking lot, “so we’re allowed to seat an extra 22 people out there.”

Smith adds certain types of beer may take two to three weeks to brew.

“There are certain beers we may not have for a while because the brewers have to brew that beer up.”

Meanwhile, a local clothing store is also eager to be back in business.

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“It’s fabulous,” said Lisa Ferguson, the owner of Hangar9 in downtown London. “It seems like we’ve turned a big corner, and we’re very excited about reopening.”

“We’ve lost two whole spring seasons,” Ferguson continued. “We buy inventory six months in advance. Who knew we were going to be locked down twice in a spring season?”

During Ontario’s most recent lockdown, the store owner had to put paper over her shop’s window.

“The fact that we get to rip off the paper, open our doors, play the music … (it’s) awesome.”

Under Ontario’s current restrictions, essential retailers can operate at a capacity of 25 per cent, but it’s 15 per cent for non-essential retailers.

More restrictions may loosen after three weeks if COVID-19 case counts continue to improve.

Up to 10 people can now gather outdoors.

–With files from 980 CFPL’s Devon Peacock

Click to play video: 'Ontario enters stage 1 pandemic reopening'
Ontario enters stage 1 pandemic reopening

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