THUNDER BAY — Doors are open and people are coming out to the Westfort business district in Thunder Bay as Ontario moves into Step 3 of the reopening plan.
Aaron Gillingham, owner of the Salsbury Grill, (The Sal), and member of the Westfort BIA, says the businesses that have “been able to pivot” have done well during the closures with takeout, online orders and appointment-only business.
“They have made it work,” he said.
“Now, leading into this weekend, there has been a lot of buzz. Businesses like . . . hair salons, the wax bar, clothing retailers, gyms and food establishments — everyone’s really pumped to get back in action.”
He added that it’s nice to see all the businesses as motivated as they are now.
“Everyone is fired up to get back at it,” he said.
But like many other areas of the city, the lingering worker shortage has affected Westfort businesses as well.
“I experienced a little bit of that at The Sal,” says Gillingham. “Everyone is scrounging for staff and there have been a few businesses who say they have had issues with staffing, but a lot of them are limiting their operation and doing what they can with the staff they do have . . . the ones that stuck around during the pandemic.”
Gillingham says Westfort is almost an entity within itself and is not experiencing the magnitude of worker shortage as other parts of Thunder Bay.
He compared the city’s north-side Waterfront Business District and its predominant dining and entertainment neighbourhood, with the city’s south-side Westfort district, pointing out the differences.
Business in Westfort is “consistently busy” with a little less moderation than businesses in the Waterfront district, which is a heavy dining district, he says.
“I know that some businesses have said they are having staffing issues but I don’t think it’s in the same capacity as the (waterfront area) experiences,” said Gillingham.
“The staffing issues are no way the same as what the (waterfront) experiences. Being in the entertainment spotlight, you get a lot of seasonal employees, a lot of late nights and early mornings and it’s not the same vibe as the south side of the city.”
Meanwhile it’s almost business as usual, except for some lingering safety protocols and capacity limits in the Westfort district.
“It’s really cool. The buzz is starting,” Gillingham said. “It’s nice to see customers coming and going again.”
Gillingham noted Frederica Street was lined with cars Friday morning and many more people were walking around in the area.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal