British Columbia

Businesses prepare to open after months closed due to COVID restrictions

Starting Tuesday, many indoor activities — including watching a movie in a theatre and exercising indoors with a group — are back, as a number of restrictions are lifted across B.C. 

B.C. enters Phase 2 of its restart plan on June 15

Movie theatres are among the businesses slated to open on June 15. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It's been months since film-lovers have had the pleasure of sitting in a dark theatre with the smell of popcorn wafting through the air, waiting for a movie to start playing on the big screen. 

Similarly, those who enjoy the thrill and drama of live theatre, or the collective satisfaction of a tough group workout, have been missing out since COVID-19 restrictions forced the suspension of activities that bring large groups of people together indoors. 

But starting Tuesday, many indoor activities — including watching a movie in a theatre and exercising indoors with a group — are back, as a number of restrictions are lifted across B.C.

It's welcome news for businesses that have suffered over the past few months. 

"We're very excited to bring people back in," says Cineplex Cinemas Marine Gateway general manager Richard McLuckie.

"It's been quite lonely in the theatres the last seven months."

As cases continued to climb last year, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry introduced a swath of tough restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus that, to date, has killed more than 1,730 people in B.C.

Among the restrictions, movie theatres were shuttered and group fitness classes were cancelled.

But along with the province's vaccine rollout, it appears the restrictions helped — B.C. is fast approaching Phase 2 of its restart plan.

On Monday morning the province will announce details of the next steps in its restart plan, but it has said previously the following changes will take place on June 15:

  • Restrictions on travel within B.C. will be lifted.
  • Liquor services at bars and restaurants will be extended to midnight.
  • Children's play dates can resume.
  • Outdoor social gatherings will be allowed to include as many as 50 people, but indoor personal social gatherings will still be limited to five.
  • Seated indoor organized gatherings will also be permitted, with up to 50 people.
  • Movie theatres, banquet halls and live theatres will be able to reopen with limited capacity.
  • Indoor sports games will be allowed.
  • Spectators will be permitted at outdoor games.
  • High-intensity fitness classes will resume with reduced capacity and safety plans in place.

McLuckie says pre-sales for movie tickets have been overwhelming.

"It's about the experience. It's that social interaction that we've been missing so much this last year. Sitting in a theatre with those around you ... You create lasting memories," he said.

Group fitness

While gyms have remained open with tight restrictions, there has been a ban on group and high-intensity fitness classes.

"There's been a few sleepless nights," says Dave Cannon, co-owner of an Orange Theory Fitness Studio in Vancouver's River District, which had its grand opening in October and was forced to close 28 days later.

"We must have skipped over the section that says don't open a business during a pandemic. It's been very challenging not only for ourselves, from a financial standpoint, but also for our staff and our members."

Dave Cannon, co-owner of an Orange Theory Fitness studio in Vancouver, says it's been a challenging year, but he's thrilled to welcome members back. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC News)

Cannon is understandably thrilled to soon welcome members back into the studio, which offers high intensity, coach-led, group classes — all components that were banned during the last wave of restrictions.

And his excitement is shared by his clients.

"Just to see other members and talk to our members is going to be great. Everyone we've talked to is pumped to come back," he said.

Tight timeline

But not all businesses will be able to open their doors come Tuesday. 

Some industries require a bit more preparation, like live theatre, says Arts Club Theatre Company executive director Peter Cathie White.

"To produce theatre takes time, we have to build sets, we have to hire actors … we need time to set it up and be able to sell the tickets and make sure our facilities are ready for reopening," he said.

The company has one play slated to begin July 22 with another opening in August.

In a normal year, Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre would put on about 18 productions spread out across three theatres in the city.

The Arts Club Theatre Company will once again offer live performances in Vancouver starting July 22. (Emily Cooper)

And while the company introduced several virtual elements over the last year, Cathie White says there's nothing quite like the shared experience of live theatre.

"There's a real joy in the collective gasp, in breathing the same air collectively again and experiencing something in front of you. The live performance affects people in so many different ways and it helps us know each other as a community," he said.

"I think it's going to be very emotional. It's going to be a great day when we start rehearsals."

With files from Michelle Ghoussoub

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