Montreal

'Now we'll see how we adapt': Nerves high as Quebec stores reopen outside Montreal

Plexiglass shields, face coverings and hand sanitizer are the new normal at the businesses allowed to reopen outside Montreal.

Montreal shop owners forced to keep doors closed until at least May 18 as number of cases rises in city

Monique Moreau and Diane Moreau, left, were happy to be back at work Monday after being stuck at home for nearly two months. ( Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Diane Moreau was back at work selling women's clothing and accessories in Saint-Jérôme, Que., on Monday after a lengthy staycation courtesy of the coronavirus.

Things have certainly changed at Boutique l'Avantage as the shop's owner strives to make it as safe as possible for both employees and customers.

"We have Plexiglass. We have soap. We have everything in place," Moreau said. "No mask? You don't come in, that's for sure. We have shields. We have masks too."

The store is among thousands across the province that reopened Monday after the Legault government ordered all non-essential businesses closed on March 25 in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

Gyms, cinemas, restaurants, bars and shopping malls remain closed, but three types of businesses outside the Montreal area have been allowed to open: stores not including those in shopping malls; construction and civil engineering businesses; and manufacturing businesses.

Boutique l’Avantage in Saint-Jérôme had a few colourful additions to its front entrance Monday. Balloons, a rainbow and simple instructions: 'Wearing a mask is obligatory.' ( Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Respecting sanitary rules

John Hamalian was forced to close his jewelry shop, Manufacture De Bijoux St-Georges, for the first time in 40 years.

In anticipation of reopening on Monday, Hamalian said he didn't get much sleep. He was about how well customers would respect the new sanitary rules.

"We don't allow more than two people at a time," he said, and there's a bottle of hand sanitizer at the entrance.

By Monday afternoon, he was pleasantly surprised by the way his longtime customers reacted to the new measures as they came into his shop in Saint-Jérôme for battery replacements and minor repairs.

But he still has plenty to worry about.

"We don't know what is going to happen in a week, or in two weeks."

John Hamalian returned to work at Manufacture De Bijoux St-Georges, mostly tending to jewelry repairs and battery replacements. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Jean Lafontaine has run his camera store, Photo CDM, in Saint-Jérôme for 42 years and he saw a significant drop in customer traffic some six weeks before Quebec put the economy on pause.

"Now we'll see how we will adapt," he said.

On Monday he had about six in-store customers in the morning, several calls and his internet-based sales continued as they have throughout the economic shutdown, he said.

Lafontaine ​​​​said his customers appear a bit anxious and willing to comply with the new public health guidelines, but it will take several weeks before everybody is adjusted to the new normal.

Montreal store owners face delay 

It's a different story for people like Marc Mercier, president of M/2 Boutique — a men's fashion store with three locations on the South Shore and one in Montreal. 

On Monday, Premier François Legault pushed back the reopening of retail stores in the greater Montreal area until the week of May 18 following widespread concerns the pandemic remains a pervasive threat in the province's largest city.

The week-long delay will be costly, Mercier said, as seasonal merchandise is backing up, bills are due and "our clients are calling us, wanting to come back." 

M/2 Boutique is too big to qualify for government assistance, Mercier said, and the situation is stressful not just for him, but his suppliers and employees as well.

"We put 60 employees on unemployment and that is very hard too because M/2 is a big family," he said. "We were ready to open next week."

The Quebec government announced Monday the reopening of retail stores in the greater Montreal area will be delayed until the week of May 18. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Then there are companies that were just getting off the ground when the pandemic struck. 

Rodolf "Rudy" Rabanera is among them. He was so focused on getting his vintage clothing store, Theo's, open in the Plateau-Mont-Royal that he was hardly aware of the news about COVID-19.

Then he and his team found out their dreams were going to be put on hold. "That really shocked us," he said. "We were pretty lost. We didn't know what to do."

Without any sales on record, he was unable to qualify for government assistance and now the delay is adding to the weeks he's already been waiting to recoup all the expenses that come with starting a business.

"The bills just keep piling up," Rabanera said.

Mercier had everything ready for next Monday, including masks, gloves and markers on the floor for customers. He's hoping this is the last time the government pushes back the date for reopening.

With files from Simon Nakonechny and Antoni Nerestant

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