N.S. small businesses greet loosening restrictions with mix of anxiety, relief
Some say it’s too soon, others look forward to getting back to normal
Small business owners have strong but mixed feelings about Nova Scotia's plan to lift pandemic restrictions.
While some are relieved and excited to do away with masks, vaccine passports and physical distancing, others feel lifting the mandates so quickly puts too much pressure on them to make difficult decisions.
Starting Monday, proof of vaccination will no longer be required for discretionary activities, such as going to the gym, restaurants, sports or arts and cultural events.
All remaining pandemic restrictions will be lifted by March 21, Premier Tim Houston announced Wednesday, so long as "everything stays on course."
Krista Armstrong, the owner-operator of Local Source Market in north-end Halifax, said March 21 feels "really fast."
"I'm feeling concerned," she said. "I'm feeling kind of like the weight of the province is on our shoulders."
The Local Source Market is a small space, Armstrong said, only about 1,000 square feet. They currently only allow four customers in at a time, which means there is often a lineup outside the shop.
Armstrong said she always consults her staff who work face-to-face with customers before making decisions around COVID-19 protocols.
"They're feeling a little bit uncertain and a bit scared, and we've decided that we're going to keep the masks on and we're going to try to keep as much physical distance in our space as possible."
Armstrong added that she feels "really sad for the people who are immunocompromised and really relied on these public health measures."
Necessary boost for business
Mark Gabrieau, co-owner and chef of Gabrieau's Bistro in Antigonish, N.S., said he was also surprised at how quickly the changes are coming, but trusts the government's decision and welcomes the changes.
"I think the difference compared to before is the high vaccination rate or uptake in vaccinations," he said, "not only in adults but also in the teens and the youth."
Gabrieau said the bistro's winter had been off to a strong start until the Omicron wave hit in December, and when they reopened with 50 per cent capacity the momentum was gone.
"It just sputtered along," he said. "We didn't pick that back up, it just stayed down."
Gabrieau hopes the government's plan will allow those who have been hesitant to dine out to feel more confident, and that business will pick up again. He also said staff and customers will be welcome to continue wearing masks after the provincial mandate is lifted, although the bistro won't be enforcing it.
Hope for a 'normal summer'
Brent Braaten, creative director of Good Robot Brewing Company in north-end Halifax, said he is looking forward to removing the plexiglass barriers between tables and restoring the atmosphere of camaraderie he believes people need now, more than ever.
He said they are also looking forward to being able to host events again.
"We're really excited to possibly have a, well, we'll say normal summer," he said.
Good Robot will not require proof of vaccination or masks after the provincial mandate is lifted. But, Braaten said, staff and patrons will be welcome to continue wearing them "without any judgment."
Proof of vaccination will still be required in higher-risk settings like hospitals and long-term care homes.