It might take a while to convince customers it’s safe to come back.
That’s the situation Jeremy Jefferies, a manager at Sharkey’s Seafood Bar and Grille in Ladner, believes is facing many businesses that are gradually reopening as the province eases pandemic restrictions.
Businesses such as bars and restaurants, as well as personal services, found themselves ordered closed for weeks as COVID-19 became the new reality, although some tried to keep things going online.
Now that those businesses were given the go-ahead to reopen in some fashion last week, it remains to be seen how quickly customers will return, even with safety measures being implemented, including reduced capacity at restaurants and servers wearing masks.
“I’d describe it as tentative caution. We’ve seen a lot of smiles come through the door but volume is at an all-time low, but staffing and labour costs are at an all-time high. It’s not a sustainable system as of right now,” said Jefferies.
Noting his business opened this Monday with just a few people coming, but all happy to be going out, Jefferies said hopefully people will feel more comfortable sooner rather than later after seeing the extensive additional sanitary practices that ensure safety.
A survey done for the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, Business Council of B.C. and others found only a quarter of B.C. businesses feel confident of restarting and operating profitably, while more than half (55 per cent) expect a restart will take at least two months. Attracting customers or revenue was the biggest concern (75 per cent).
While Pat Quinn’s at Tsawwwassen Springs also had to close its dining area, the restaurant managed to keep its kitchen open with a take-out menu, bringing food orders to the coffee shop across the street for customers to pick up.
Tsawwassen Springs general manager Susan Carlile said the restaurant is making preparations to open soon at 50 per cent capacity.
Open Space Yoga owner Gerry Sylvester said he’s not comfortable opening his Ladner Village studio at the moment.
He said clients are enjoying taking classes virtually and are in no rush to return to the Delta Street studio. Open Space Yoga has been offering 19 online classes weekly during the pandemic, sessions that average 23 participants and can get close to 40 on weekends.
Sylvester said he can only accommodate eight mats in the studio when complying with social distancing guidelines, which is barely half the average class size of 14 and well below the 25 or more that attend the most popular classes.
He said the pandemic has Open Space looking at new ways of doing business, including early morning virtual classes as well as, once it reopens, streaming classes so participants can be in-studio or at home.
Muscle Memory owner Rob Gillespie said he reopened in a limited capacity last week, capping the number of clients at any one time in the Tsawwassen fitness studio at four.
“We’re taking this slow and being extra cautious,” Gillespie said.
Muscle Memory closed March 16, a month before the order from Fraser Health, and has been offering virtual classes since then, a practice he said would continue for at least another month.
Saying there have been lineups at both their Ladner and Tsawwassen locations with people happy to be able to go out and get a haircut, Adina Shore, owner of Billie’s Barbershop, noted almost everyone who’s gone through their doors is pleased with the measures they’ve implemented.
They include all stylists and customers having to wear masks, a limited number of people in the shop at any one time and no facial hair cut.
Shore noted chairs were already six feet apart.
“I’d say 99 per cent of the people are happy and were comfortable coming back inside. While we are doing it and wear masks, it’s interesting if you look up the personal services requirements, it says you should wear a mask if you can’t keep a safe distance but it doesn’t state you have to wear a mask,” she added.
At last week’s virtual town hall meeting, Mayor George Harvie encouraged residents to support local businesses.
Delta MP Carla Qualtrough, who was a guest at the session, had a similar message, asking people to shop and eat local. If people don’t feel comfortable eating inside, they can also make use of what will be expanded patio options, she said.
Meanwhile, retail stores that decided to close their doors, including almost every store at Tsawwassen Mills, are gradually reopening as well.
The mall and its stores now offer a different shopping experience with safety precautions for the foreseeable future, including hand sanitizing stations, limiting the seating in the food court and other measures, while the stores are limiting capacity and reminding customers to keep a safe distance.
“A series of preventive health and safety measures were already implemented at the property, including educating tenants and visitors on respiratory and handwashing hygiene, as well as physical distancing requirements through comprehensive signage. We comply with the protocols and guidelines established by public health and government authorities and we ask our visitors kindly to follow the health and safety instructions they will see posted throughout our property,” a spokesperson with Ivanhoe Cambridge told the Optimist.
With files from Ted Murphy