COVID-19 pandemic brings boom times to Almonte

The picturesque eastern Ontario town is seeing a boom in business as people travel closer to home during the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the local health unit warns against it.

Businesses say summer traffic hasn't slowed, as health unit strikes cautionary note

People wait in lines outside shops in downtown Almonte, Ont., on Nov. 14, 2020. The COVID-19 restrictions, coupled with more and more visitors, means most businesses have lines these days that stretch out the door. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

One picturesque eastern Ontario town is seeing a boom in business as people travel closer to home during the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the local health unit warns against it.

The town of Almonte, Ont., about 50 kilometres west of downtown Ottawa, is normally a big weekend destination for tourists in the summer.

But this year, some local businesses say the busy season started earlier, and still hasn't stopped. 

"We actually just looked at our books for October, [which is] usually our quietest month of the year, and it has been our best," said Emily Arbour, owner Cheerfully Made Goods and Markets.

On any given weekend, stores have had lineups and parking spots have been full, said Arbour. The majority of visitors, she said, have been from outside of the immediate area, mostly from Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

In the town, the reaction has been mixed.

"For the business, it's been great," she said. "As a local, we're kind of like, what do we do? What do we do with all these people? Is this good for our community?"

But after having to close for months at the start of the pandemic, Arbour said she's happily welcoming the steady stream of customers. 

Emily Arbour owns Cheerfully Made Goods and Markets in Almonte, Ont., and says that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, this fall has been her best one on record. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Travel discouraged

The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, however, is discouraging travel from areas with higher COVID-19 transmission rates to those with lower case numbers.

As of Saturday, the health unit only had 17 active cases, compared to more than 500 in Ottawa. Almonte did see a large outbreak at its long-term care home at the beginning of the pandemic, but since then, the COVID-19 numbers have been relatively stable.

"Businesses should not be encouraging anyone to travel between areas, and we strongly advise the public to continue to do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19," said medical officer of health Dr. Paula Stewart.

"One way to do this is to stay within your community and to limit your trips outside of the house to essential ones."

Bob Graff runs Baker Bob's in the historic centre of Almonte, Ont. He says local businesses are doing all they can to keep visitors safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

But businesses in the town say they are following all the rules to keep everyone safe, and customers are co-operative. 

"If you look at the demographics of how many people in Almonte go into Ottawa every single day to go to work, there's probably more people going in to go to work and coming home every day than there are people coming out here to spend an hour or two walking up and down the street." said Bob Graff, who runs Baker Bob's.

Both Arbour and Graff said customers have been very respectful, and they hope the boom means more tourism for the town post-pandemic. 

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