Up to half the businesses on Danforth Avenue may not be ready to reopen, despite the provincial government giving them the go-ahead.
The reasons lie in the continuing cases of COVID-19, as well as the businesses’ inability to promptly comply with safety measures.
“A number of businesses aren’t eager to reopen right away because they’re figuring out what’s safe to do, and what works best for everyone,” said Colin Johnson, manager of Danforth Mosaic BIA.
The provincial government allowed the opening of retail stores with a separate entrance on the street, as long as they followed social distancing regulations.
Premier Doug Ford announced the opening plans on May 14, and the permissions came into effect on May 19.
But some businesses on Danforth were not ready to reopen because they had not expected to resume operations so soon.
“It’s been sprung on them as a surprise,” said Joe Murillo, chairman of Crossroads of the Danforth BIA.
Businesses that haven’t opened yet are still putting in protective gear, trying to figure out how to accommodate social distancing,” Murillo said. “That’s why many businesses are not ready yet.”
Opening requires safety expenses
Public Health Ontario provides guidance to help employers safely conduct their businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It encourages employers to shift to online commerce or booking appointments, as well as to launch delivery services and practise curbside pickup.
Additionally, Public Health requires retail stores to install protective gear, such as plexiglass barriers, to ensure physical distancing between customers and staff. It also advises employees to wear gloves and a mask.
But Murillo said some businesses in the community prefer to remain shut down because they cannot afford protective equipment, not having taking in revenue recently.
“It requires money, which none of them have because they haven’t been open for two months,” he said.
Philip Kocev, a board member of Broadview-Danforth BIA, said many expenses “will come into play” when businesses consider whether to open.
It may be better “from a financial position” for some businesses to stay closed, he said.
Too early to reopen?
About 90 per cent of retail stores in the Broadview-Danforth area have closed since the quarantine began, Kocev estimated. With the restaurants delivering food and reopening stores, only about 45 per cent of businesses remain shut down.
Kocev also said other owners of closed retail stores do not feel safe to reopen as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.
“From a safety perspective, they would rather wait a little bit longer before reopening their businesses.”
Johnson said rushing into reopening could make more people sick.
“There’s no point to hurry if you don’t have to rush to reopen, or if you can stay online and do curbside pickup only.”
“Doing a responsible economic decision right now is the safest way of reopening businesses during COVID-19,” Johnson said.
‘I just want to keep us all safe’
However, the majority of employers are positive about mitigating restrictions and eager to get back to business, Kocev said.
Most businesses are approaching reopening positively, welcoming a gradual lifting of restrictions, he said.
“They are supportive of slowly coming back to full operations.”
One of them is Jeanne John, owner of the clothing store Snug for more than 30 years.
After she heard the news about reopening, she understood she had to change her business model by starting a web page.
“After I picked myself up off the floor, I realized that that’s what I had to do,” John said. “It took a pandemic for me to have an online store.”
John allows her customers to buy products online and pick them up at the curbside to avoid direct contact.
She also offers free local delivery that she does on her own.
“Because of social distancing, you can’t have anybody working with you. You have to do everything yourself,” John said.
She opened the doors of Snug to walk-in customers on the first day of provincial reopening.
Now John allows only one person at a time to shop in the store.
As an additional precaution, she requests her customers to wear protective gear and use the hand sanitizer when they arrive.
John said that she even had to turn a couple of people away because they did not wear masks.
“I just want to keep us all safe. If my customer and I wear a mask, it [protects] us and our families,” she said. “All my neighbouring stores are doing the same thing.”
Since her business focuses on selling children’s and women’s clothes, John decided to use the store bathroom as a changing room because it is easier for her to clean it after her clients try on the garments.
“It can’t be about businesses,” she said. “It’s about health and safety.”
Closed until further notice
Employers on the Danforth who still cannot resume their activities due to the COVID-19 crisis strive to “get back to business as usual” because it has been “economically devastating” for them to stay closed, Johnson said.
“There’s a very strong response from businesses, and many of them want to reopen. However, it’s not safe to do so,” he said.
“I believe that the government is doing what it can to put public safety first,” John son said. “Unfortunately, it puts an uncomfortable squeeze on local business.”
Murillo said it is very hard for the businesses in the community to be closed, but remaining shut is a matter of public safety.
“Nobody’s happy that their businesses closed,” he said. “But everybody wants to be safe and make sure that [reopening] has been done in a safe manner.”
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