Ottawa

Ottawa businesses greet new restrictions with frustration, resignation

Beginning just after midnight on Wednesday, no indoor dining is allowed at restaurants while other businesses such as gyms and movie theatres must close their doors.

No indoor dining or in-person workouts among new rules kicking in on Wednesday

Adel Mahfouz is the owner of Manotick's Creekside Bar and Grill in south Ottawa. (courtesy Adel Mahfouz)

Ottawa businesses are reacting to the latest set of COVID-19 restrictions with a mix of resignation and frustration.

Beginning just after midnight on Wednesday, no indoor dining is allowed at restaurants while other businesses such as gyms and movie theatres must close their doors.

The rules apply provincewide and were announced by the Ontario government Monday in a bid to curb the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19. 

Kate Laird opened her new gym, Love Your Body Fitness, in Ottawa's Westboro neighbourhood in September 2021.

Under the new rules, in-person workouts will be off the table until at least Jan. 26.

"I had a woman crying in my gym when I told her gyms were closing," Laird said. "She's going through something really, really hard right now, and the gym is kind of what's helping her get through it."

Laird said her business has survived this far into the pandemic, in part, through launching online workouts over Zoom.

Love Your Body Fitness began offering online workouts during the pandemic. (courtesy Kate Laird )

But not every business is as flexible.

Adel Mahfouz, the owner of Manotick's Creekside Bar and Grill in south Ottawa, said indoor dining is where his restaurant makes its money. He said it isn't designed for takeout.

"We don't even break even," Mahfouz said. 

The restaurateur said the business will nevertheless offer a pick-up service, albeit only for a handful of hours each day.

"I do that only to keep the staff onboard and to keep in contact with our customers," he said.

"It's very frustrating for everybody," he said of the stress felt by his workers. "I have staff servers who [cry] every time they hear this news."

Before Monday's announcement, Ontario had offered property tax and energy cost rebates to many businesses. Late last month the federal government opened applications for a new worker support program.

Ontario is temporarily closing gyms and indoor recreational sport facilities as part of the plan to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. But business owners, including dance and fitness studio owner Suzan Richards, say the latest closures are hitting wallets and morale, extra hard.

Another closure 'obviously slightly discouraging'

Daniel Demois, the co-owner of the downtown Bytowne Cinema, said the business was challenged when it had to close earlier in the pandemic. 

But the theatre was looking forward to helping more people find their seats, Demois said, only to be faced with another closure. 

"We still haven't really gotten to the point where we have audiences coming back in full force, so having to close down again is obviously slightly discouraging," Demois said. 

The Bytowne Cinema in downtown Ottawa, like other theatres across Ontario, is not allowed to show movies starting on Wednesday. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

While the province banned the sale of concessions to moviegoers going inside auditoriums back in December 2021, Demois said the Bytowne may offer popcorn and other snacks for takeout. 

The provincial government has encouraged businesses to consider offering outdoor dining. 

At this time of year, that's not workable, said Christine Leadman, the executive director of the Bank Street Business Improvement Area.

"Even if you were to put temporary structures up, all the requirements around that in terms of public safety, heaters and all of that just don't make it feasible," she said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

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