THUNDER BAY — Step 3 of the Ontario reopening road map kicks into full gear today as everything from gyms and personal services to libraries and restaurants come back to life.
“Excited beyond excited,” describes Jim Comuzzi, chairman of Thunder Bay’s Waterfront District BIA (Business Improvement Area) and owner of Rooster’s Bistro.
“We’ve all taken great care, our businesses survived through this last 18 months and we are ready. We are so ready for this opportunity to show what we can do in the downtown area.”
Comuzzi says the reopenings just are a prelude of what’s to come for the downtown north core.
“It’s exciting times and . . . it’s exciting to see the traffic that’s coming back. I’ve spent my whole life on this corner. It’s a family owned piece of property and that activity that is coming into the downtown is growing and it’s only going to get better in the next three to five years . . . it’s going to be an exceptional area,” he said.
As doors open wider to inside dining and shopping, Comuzzi is asking people to be patient.
“Hiring has been difficult . . . but I have had a lot of people in the last couple weeks bring me in resumes and I think it should start correcting itself soon,” he said, adding that he’s not the only one seeing this. Other eateries are also scrambling.
“The bosses are doing the same thing I’m doing. We’re bussing tables and taking out the trash and . . . everyone is working seven hours a day. We want people to remain patient during this transition time. We are going to do the best we can and hopefully people understand that.”
Kara Pratt, the Waterfront District BIA co-ordinator, says everyone from tattoo artists and retailers to restaurants are happy to be back.
“We need to give some love to everybody down here,” she said.
While some businesses can’t wait to throw open their doors, others will remain closed until they are ready to welcome back patrons.
“I don’t think all of them are opening up right away,” says Pratt. “They are preparing and taking their time as we have seen with some of our retailers and opening when they are ready.”
Definitely Superior Art Gallery is one place that will remain closed until September.
David Karasiewicz, the gallery’s executive artistic director, says, “For us it’s going to be a little different. We are actually still going though renovations for our own phase two gallery plans.”
Located in the former Cineplex Theatre building on Cumberland Street, Karasiewicz says they have new tenants in the building and their renovations cross into gallery renovations, but the effort will worth it in the long run.
“We are incorporating cinema three into our gallery spaces, which will double our size,” he said. “It will be used for performance and exhibition space and it will also contain a micro-cinema. It will be quite unique with additional opportunities for artists.”
The grand reopening, the 33rd anniversary of the gallery, the Di-Active Exhibition and start of phase two are all on the calender.
Around the city, businesses are ramping up for indoor dining, personal services, gatherings, sports and recreation that people have all been missing for months.
“Westfort seems to be going through a big revival,” says Andrew Moro, of J.B.Evans. “We have lots of great new businesses and lots of foot traffic. Lots of people are coming down to the neigbourhood.”
“It’s been a long time for some of these businesses,” says Charla Robinson, president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce. “They have been closed for months I know that those businesses that are allowed to open in Step 3 are very excited about that.”
Although this is all good news, Robinson says it’s not business as usual.
“There are still capacity restrictions and we know that there will be a bit of a transitional time period in Step 3 before we are able to go to a no-restriction world. . . . We expect that will probably take some time.”
Robinson says the care that people took for safety measures over the last 18 months with masks, and hygiene will likely continue.
“Following those protocols, even when we are through this, is a great way to keep each other and ourselves safe because COVID is still around,” she said. “The health unit keeps reminding us that we need to be vigilant and all do our part so we can continue to have a little more freedom to do the things we want to do by going to those businesses and enjoying those services that we have been missing out on.”
She says Thunder Bay is still a ways away from the required stages showing 80 per cent with one vaccine shot, and 75 per cent with two shots.
“I think that’s going to be quite some time yet but we are happy to be in Step 3 because it’s almost normal,” she said.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal