MONTREAL — Retailers and theatre owners say they're happy Quebec lifted capacity limits on stores and eased physical distancing rules for entertainment venues, but some operators of performance halls say the changes don't mean much for them.
On Monday, stores no longer faced COVID-19 capacity limits but were still required to ensure customers kept one metre of distance from each other. Owners of theatres and other performance venues were able to reduce space between patrons from different households to one empty seat instead of 1.5 metres.
Éric Bouchard, co-president of a theatre owners group called the Association des propriétaires de cinémas du Québec, said the change makes a "universe of difference," especially for smaller theatres.
When the two Montreal-area theatres he co-owns were allowed to reopen in February, they were required to keep two metres of distance between patrons from different households — limiting capacity to around 10 per cent, he said. Bouchard was also forbidden to sell snacks.
"Now … you can reach up to 65 per cent of capacity, it means a lot," he said about the new distancing rule. Another thing that's helping movie theatres, he said, is the release of new films. And while the health orders are still "not ideal," he described the new rules as a "huge progression."
But not all venues can take advantage of the distance reduction.
Circus festival Montréal Complètement Cirque will see few additional seats added because its two main venues are already at capacity with 250 people, said Stéphane Lavoie, programming director at circus venue Tohu, which organizes the festival.
While Quebec allows 3,500 people to attend indoor events and up to 5,000 outside, audiences must be separated into sections of 250 people, with separate entrances and washrooms for each section. Lavoie said that with the new rule on physical distancing, only one venue — a cabaret under a big tent — will be able to add 60 seats to bring it close to the 250-person maximum.
"It's not a lot," he said in an interview Monday. "The problem for rooms like the Tohu is the 250 (limit)." While Lavoie said having sections of 250 people might work for an arena, it doesn't work for concert halls that don't have multiple entrances and washrooms.
Lavoie said he understands the need to keep different "bubbles" separated but he doesn't understand the 250-person capacity for venues, especially when shopping centres and large retail stores can have bigger crowds. "The fact that a retailer or a business can have 300 people walking around and we can't have more than 250 people seated, we're a little disappointed," he said.
Jean-Guy Côté, executive director of the Quebec Retail Council, said retailers have been asking for an end to the pandemic-related restrictions on the number of clients allowed in stores.
"What we saw during the pandemic is, because of the lines, some people were not keen to enter the stores," he said. "They were just going back to their homes and going to the big retailers online. For the corner stores, the mom-and-pop shops and the local stores, it's good news."
Côté said that for retailers, things are almost back to normal, despite the fact they still need to ensure customers stay one metre apart from each other and mask-wearing remains mandatory.
Quebec reported 52 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and 147 other cases from Friday and Saturday. One COVID-19-related death has been reported since Friday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press