'It's a bit of a scramble but it's a good feeling:' Restaurants prepare to reopen patios on Friday

Restaurant owners around the city are prepping their patios to reopen this weekend for the first time in months after the province announced Monday that Ontario will be entering the first stage of its reopening plan on Friday.

Under Step 1 of the Ford government’s reopening roadmap, non-essential retail can reopen at 15 per cent capacity and restaurants and bars can open patios for outdoor dining.

The province initially planned to enter the first stage on June 14 but declining case numbers and hospitalizations combined with an uptick in vaccination rates prompted the premier to start Step 1 at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, three days ahead of schedule.

“It's a bit of a panic, it's a bit of a scramble but it's a good feeling,” Shamez Amlani, co-owner of Queen West bistro La Palette, told CP24 on Monday. “It’s so needed.”

Meg Marshall, the manager of the Queen West BIA, called the reopening “exceptional news.”

“It is going to be a celebratory moment when our patios open,” Marshall told CP24 on Monday afternoon. “We can go back to a life we once knew enjoying the city and enjoying the night life.”

Albert Stortchak, owner of Der Dietemann Antiques and Broadview-Danforth BIA board member, said the business community is “thrilled” that the reopening process has finally started.

“If the vaccination and COVID numbers roll the right way, I mean we are hoping that the province will accelerate entry into stage 2,” he said.

The province has said it will not advance to the next stage of reopening, which will allow personal care services to resume operations, until at least 21 days after entering Step 1.

“I mean restaurants and my retail, we are opening up but it is the nail salons and the other services, the hair salons, they are suffering badly as well,” Stortchak told CP24 on Tuesday morning.

“Everybody is into debt. You've tapped your family, you've tapped your line of credit, you might have re-mortgaged and government programs are coming to an end so the lifelines are gone. It is the reopening and consumers coming back, that is the lifeline that is desperately needed.”

In a news release issued Tuesday, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said a recent survey of small businesses shows that about two-thirds believe the province’s reopening plan is too slow.

“Ontario businesses are incredibly frustrated as they have had little or no opportunity to make sales, while the rest of the country is reopening much faster,” CFIB president Dan Kelly said in a written statement.

Kelly called the province’s announcement on Monday “much-needed good news” for restaurants and retailers but noted that gyms, hair salons, and stores located in malls without a street-facing entrance must remain closed for at least another three weeks.

“At this rate, many provinces will be back to normal business operations before Ontarians can even get a haircut. We need to pick up the pace now, or many businesses won’t even make it to reopening,” he said.

“Most of these low-risk business activities have been open for weeks or months in other provinces, or, like retail in B.C., never closed at all during the pandemic.”

The CFIB is calling on the Ford government to add hair salons and other personal care services to the list of businesses that are eligible to reopen on Friday.

The organization is also asking that the province allow gyms and fitness centres to open with limited capacity this weekend.

According to the CFIB, the three-week interval between further rounds of reopening must be shortened and the province needs to bring in “a new, faster plan that is more in line with other provinces.”

“The level of anger and despair we’re hearing from business owners is alarming. They are watching their life’s work crumble due to the province’s inaction,” Kelly’s statement continued.

“The Ontario government needs to let more businesses reopen more quickly, so they can catch up to their counterparts in the rest of the country.”

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s outgoing chief medical officer of health, said while he understands everyone is “eager to keep moving quickly,” the province wants to ensure cases do not spike back up again before moving to the next stage of reopening.

“We have been careful and slow and we want to do the same thing with Step 2,” he said at a news conference on Monday.

“Our model right now is to look at that three-week period between the steps in order to ensure a steady trend direction that we are satisfied will not just rebound back up again.”

He said officials will continue to assess the case numbers and vaccination rates in the coming weeks.

“We are continuing to review those data points and assess it,” he said.

“The 21 (days) will allow of course for the vaccination and the numbers to settle. We don’t want to be going to Step 2 and say, ‘Oops, let’s go back to Step 1.’”