Restaurants, retailers in N.L. scramble to prepare for weekend lockdown lift

·3 min read
Retail stores on the Avalon Peninsula have been closed for a month to in-person shopping after an outbreak sent the province into lockdown in February. They're permitted to open Saturday. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
Retail stores on the Avalon Peninsula have been closed for a month to in-person shopping after an outbreak sent the province into lockdown in February. They're permitted to open Saturday. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)

Business owners across the province have a short turnaround to prepare for reopening this weekend, as all regions in Newfoundland and Labrador drop an alert level — but lessons from last year, some say, are smoothing out the process.

Malls, non-essential retailers and salons on the Avalon Peninsula got the green light on Wednesday, when the province's chief medical officer signalled she would lift restrictions that banned in-store leisure shopping.

The region moves to Alert Level 4 on Saturday, sending retailers scurrying, while the rest of the province moves to Level 3, prompting restaurants to dust off their tables and welcome diners once again.

Gail Decker, owner of Next Clothing in downtown St. John's, welcomed the news after three consecutive crises — the January 2020 blizzard, and two COVID-19-related lockdowns — forced her to draw the blinds on her shop.

"It's been a bit of a roller-coaster," she said.

Decker pivoted last year, creating an online store and offering curbside pickup, "which was totally new and foreign to me," but worked out well, she said. She's used the last four weeks to stock her new spring inventory, readying the racks for her customers' eventual return, but kept afloat through digital sales.

Gail Decker, owner of Next Clothing Company, says she's had surprising success with her online store, but nothing beats in-person service.
Gail Decker, owner of Next Clothing Company, says she's had surprising success with her online store, but nothing beats in-person service. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Down the street, Ceara Collins of Sound Salon Spa called the lifted lockdown a "relief" for her staff, who she says have been champing at the bit to get back to work.

Unlike Decker, Collins hasn't been able to generate alternative means of income through the salon.

"Our business relies completely on human interaction," Collins said.

Beyond the overpass, Peter Small, manager of Legends Lounge in Gander, echoed Collins' sentiment — he was forced to lay off most of his staff last month, despite offering takeout.

Small spent Thursday arranging his tables to ensure patrons stay two metres apart, as health officials have emphasized this week ahead of the level downgrades. He's taken out half his usual seating, leaving room for 60 diners.

Establishments are emerging from their second lockdown in a year.
Establishments are emerging from their second lockdown in a year.(Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

"Social distancing is a big part of it.… You can't just stand around and mingle," he said. "Although we are having some entertainment for Paddy's Day, we can't put anybody close to the band."

And, Small added, the Level 3 rules mean "you can't just come in and order a drink like you normally would. You have to order food in order to have a beverage."

Aside from the odd holiday show, the stage generally stays dark, and Small turns off the taps at 10 p.m. Much to his regulars' dismay, there won't be any late-night dance parties until after the pandemic, he said.

Small's been here before, late last spring. Now he knows how to manage customer flow. The secret, he says, is an emphasis on reservations.

"I think we're much further ahead," he said. "We know what we're in for this time."

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