Patio season post-COVID and how Barrie, Ont. businesses hope for a boost

Restaurants along Dunlop Street in downtown Barrie Ont., Aug. 14, 2022 . Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

While businesses everywhere work to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, patios will once again be gracing the sidewalks of the downtown core in Barrie, Ont.

From April 15 to Nov. 15, downtown restaurants and businesses can extend their storefronts with outdoor patios.

The Patios Everywhere Program, which waved fees to businesses during COVID, is ending, but those interested in setting up an outdoor patio can apply online for the regular permit.

“It gives businesses a little bit of a boost in their capacity. A lot of businesses double their capacity with their patio space outside,” said Heather Kennedy with the Downtown Barrie BIA.

It’s also a great way to attract people to the downtown core while many businesses continue to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic, she added.

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“People do tend to think that now that the pandemic (appears) over, business owners are out of the woods, and that is just really not true. We still have a long way to go in terms of recovering from that time, and with the current economic state of the world, we still see a kind of a downturn in people shopping local,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Marking 3 years of the COVID-19 pandemic with Dr. Bogoch'
Marking 3 years of the COVID-19 pandemic with Dr. Bogoch

Kennedy noted that while the patio program has always been open to businesses beyond bars and resultants, they are trying to encourage more shops outside the food service industry to participate.

“We really just want to give businesses the opportunity to kind of pivot if they need to and have every opportunity to try something new,” she said.

Kennedy also owns the downtown general store Blueberry Moon, which she said will set up a section outside her store to showcase local artisans.

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Steve Ricalis, co-owner of three downtown restaurants, Donaleigh’s, Dunlop Street Diner and North Country, said he plans to have their patios open all season long.

“Everybody’s looking forward to it, and spring is in the air. You can see it in everybody’s faces. We saw it on St Patrick’s Day last week, where you could just feel that everybody feels a little bit more secure about going out and taking advantage of the weather outside and spring coming,” Ricalis said.

Ricalis said extending their storefronts with a patio is a major help to their businesses, one of which he said opened during the pandemic.

Although he has a positive outlook for business this summer, Ricalis said it’s also important to remember that many businesses are still recovering.

“It’s going to take a long time for the food industry to get out of the depth they put themselves in just to survive, and a lot of restaurants did not survive. We’re just looking for that extra boom for the summertime and the patios,” he said.

“There’s not very many franchises downtown as far as shopping or restaurants. They’re really independent. We live in this town. We support this town.”

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Ward 2 Councillor Craig Nixon, who represents downtown Barrie, said the program’s return is a great sign for business in the downtown core.

“I think it’s been proven and certainly stated by all the businesses involved in it that it was successful, and it brought a lot more people downtown,” Nixon said.

Nixon also said it was a great way to entice people to return to the downtown core after they were discouraged from going to many places during the pandemic.

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