‘Feels like we’re living again’: Customers flock to reopened patios, stores

That collective sigh of relief you hear is from London shoppers, hitting the stores once again Friday.

Of course, it may have been drowned out by a cry of joy from merchants that there is lockdown relief, at last.

The third and latest lockdown of the 15-month-long pandemic began a few days into April and was lifted Friday when stores were allowed to open to a few shoppers at a time, giving retailers some relief after surviving on delivery and curbside pickup.

“I have been swamped all day,” said Meleny Buragina, owner of Buragina’s Men’s Fashions on Southdale Road. “This is a step toward normalcy. People were lining up this morning, waiting for me to open. It doesn’t hurt that Father’s Day is a week away.”

Step 1 of Ontario’s reopening plan allows non-essential retail to have customer indoors as long as it is at 15 per cent of capacity based on walkable floor space. Essential retailers, such as grocery stores, can be at 25 per cent.

At Nabourhood Pool and Spa on McGregor Avenue, a steady flow of customers dropped by in the afternoon to prepare for a weekend of swimming. A large sign on the door stated that traffic was limited to 10 customers at a time.

“This is good. I am used to standing in line and waiting for someone to get me. This is nice,” said John Szekely, after getting his water tested. “It is like a different world.”

At Austin and Taylor, a home furnishing store on Fanshawe Park Road, customers lined up before opening. People invested in their homes during he quarantine and now they want furniture to match, store manager Brian Sutherland said.

“It’s been pretty busy. Even Thursday we had people calling asking if we would be open. They have been going crazy at home and happy to be out shopping again,” he said.

“People have been home a long time in lockdown and some are thinking it is time to invest in new furniture.”

Stores are limited to 15 per cent capacity based on “walkable space” not total floor space. Sutherland has 2,600 square metres of floor space, but with large displays, customers are limited to 28 at a time, and like many businesses, had someone at the door to watch traffic.

Along with retailers, bars and restaurants opened patios across the city, and did a brisk business.

“It is wonderful to be out. It feels like we are living again,” said Nicole Flesaru, on the patio at Joe Kool’s, on Richmond Row. “It’s a nice treat to come out.”

King of Pigs, the Hamilton Road Portuguese restaurant, also opened its 44-seat patio Friday and prepared the kitchen for a busy day, manager Ruy Vieira said.

“It is very important patios reopen so we can have a way of making extra money,” he said, adding the restaurant did a steady business of pickup and delivery during the lockdown.

“There has been a lot of excitement. People want to come out.”

The reopening also allows outdoor gatherings of 10 people and four persons at a table on a patio.

Home Hardware Building Centre on Dundas Street East limited its customers to 25 at a time in the 150-square-metre store and did steady business for much of the day, store owner Dave Kirk said.

“People are happy they can see what they are getting” compared to shopping online, he said.

“We have been going steady since the doors opened. We did OK during lockdown with curbside pickup, but it is three times the work for a third of the sales. I spent a lot of time with customers trying to understand what they want.”

The reopening plan also allows outdoor fitness and training classes with up to 10 people, day camps and overnight camping at Ontario parks. Outdoor racing events, horse and car, can be held, but without spectators. Outdoor pools can reopen. Religious services can also be held indoors, at 15 per cent capacity.

The province could move to Step 2 of the reopening plan in 21 days if 70 per cent of all eligible Ontario residents have their first COVID-19 vaccine dose and 20 per cent of residents have the required two doses.

At Buragina’s, along with people just wanting to get out of the house, traffic also was driven by people needing some new threads as they packed on a little weight in quarantine, Buragina said. Others simply wanted to dress up, because they have not been able to.

“Some people are suffering withdrawal. They want to go sit on a patio and a year ago they would have gone in T-shirt and shorts. Now, they want a funky shirt.”

Step 1 reopening highlights:

Non-essential retail allowed to have customers indoors at 15 per cent of capacity based on available floor space. Capacity for essential retailers, such as grocery stores, is 25 per cent. Limit for outdoor gatherings increases to 10 people from five, and four at a table allowed to dine outdoors. Overnight camping in parks allowed. Up to 10 people can take part in outdoor fitness and training classes. Day camps allowed. Outdoor racing events, horse and car, permitted but without spectators. Outdoor pools allowed to open. Indoor religious services permitted at 15 per cent capacity. In 21 days, if 70 per cent of eligible adults have one vaccine and 20 per cent have two doses, province will move to Step 2 of three-step reopening plan.

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