Winnipeg garden centre temporarily closing again, as customers push back on distancing rules
Sage Garden says its staff have been abused over rules, doesn't want to put them at risk
A Winnipeg greenhouse and gardening centre says it's temporarily closing ahead one of the busiest weekends of the year, because some customers have been abusing staff over physical distancing rules.
In a note posted to its website, Sage Garden said it will be closed until it can open its outdoor shopping spaces on Saturday, May 23.
"This is out of concern for the well-being of our staff who have faced disrespectful behaviour from some visitors unhappy with our distancing and other COVID-19 precautions, and our need to ensure the safety of everyone on-site," a statement on its website reads.
The garden centre has been open to customers for a week, with rules in place such as allowing only one person per car into the garden centre, and limiting the number of visitors allowed inside.
Like other Manitoba businesses, it is required by a public health order to ensure customers can keep at least two metres apart at all times.
Before it reopened, the garden centre reorganized its entire setup so that it could allow people to spread out more, said owner Dave Hanson.
Still, he says staff have been yelled at and even touched by visitors who don't like the changes.
"I think that what we realized is that it's not fair to our staff to have them become sort of … security officers or something like that, when we're trying to manage these kinds of behaviours from people," he said.
With the traditionally busy May long weekend coming up, Hanson said he felt he had no choice but to close his business, in order to keep his staff safe and obey public health orders.
"The last thing that we would want to do is put them in a position where they feel like they can't come to work or they can't work in a safe way."
Sage Garden will continue with curbside pickup for online orders, and will reopen next Saturday with expanded space to allow for more physical distancing.
Hanson said the province's reopening plan for businesses — which was announced on April 29, with a first phase starting on May 4 — caught Sage by surprise. He thinks people may have been unclear on what to expect after the reopening.
"We found that maybe the communication about reopening was a little bit abrupt, and suddenly there was an expectation we felt from customers that things were just back to normal," he said.
"Almost immediately people were wanting to kind of show up and just … feel as though the doors are open and things are back to how they might have been."
Down the road at Jardins St-Léon Gardens, co-owner Colin Remillard says his business has made similar changes, widening aisles and limiting the number of people in the market.
But he says his staff haven't encountered the same kind of backlash.
"The system works and it flows.… People are adapting to the limitations, and most people understand," he said.
"If they don't, we haven't seen that, which is good."
He said it's unfortunate that Sage Gardens has had to close temporarily due to negative behaviour.
"We love Sage Gardens. We're sorry they have to go through that, but I trust they're making the right decision for their circumstances."
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, addressed situations like the one at Sage Garden during his regular Friday news conference.
He said it's up to private businesses to set their own policies on how they'll enforce safe physical distancing, but if the customers refuse to follow, the business can take other steps.
"If they felt unsafe for some reason, then I think they should follow normal process and call authorities," Roussin said.
With files from Aidan Geary