From change rooms to sanitizing, Sask. retail stores navigate strict rules in reopening plan

Phase two of the province’s reopening plan starts today with hairdressers, massage therapists and retail stores now allowed to open in most parts of the province.

Retail, hairdressers, massage therapists allowed to open their doors while following health guidelines

Trevor Norgan, manager of Regina's Fresh Air Experience says his store is open by appointment only for now. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

As retail businesses begin to open their doors for the first time since COVID-19 public health orders ordered them closed, the weight of strict new rules is being felt across the sector.

Starting Tuesday, retail businesses can allow shoppers into their stores to peruse their items. Many businesses which have relied on online ordering and curbside pickups are relishing the chance to welcome more shoppers.

"I think there is a large portion of people who are ready to get out and come and see the new spring merchandise," said Carol Dyck, co-owner of Manhattan Casuals in Saskatoon.

"I know there are some people that just don't want to get out yet and that's fine. But the people that are ready, we're ready for them."

Conditions for opening

The province has brought in conditions that retailers must follow to reopen.

Regular physical distancing of two metres must be followed, store owners must pull any item that was worn by a customer off the shelf for 72 hours before it can be displayed again and the items must be sanitized.

As well, half of any store's changing rooms must be kept empty as a way to spread people out.

As a result, some stores are not allowing people to try on items inside the store — at least for now.

"We weren't really sure how to sanitize leather shoes," said Emily Petrie, manager of Broadway Shoe Repair.

"Plus, we're operating with only three staff members, so it would be a lot of work. For now we'll just be letting customers return them."

Not quite business as usual

The restrictions have meant some stores have decided not to fully open.

Trevor Norgan, manager of Regina's Fresh Air Experience says his store is relying on people making appointments.

"It's challenging," said Norgan. "It's nerve-racking as well. The big thing is keeping the staff safe, keeping the public safe and just acting in the safest way possible."

Norgan said his store building is narrow, making it somewhat difficult for people to keep their distance.

"By doing appointment only, we're controlling how many people can come in. We can really judge and gauge what the public wants."

Finally opening

For some business owners, the first day of opening was an even bigger occasion.

Karlee Raiwet, owner of The Alternative — a zero-waste market in Regina — was supposed to open her store on April 1, but those plans were cancelled after the pandemic was announced.

Karlee Raiwet, owner of The Alternative, was supposed to open her doors Apr. 1, but was unable to after the pandemic was declared. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

"We're excited that we're finally able to [open]," said Raiwet.

"My hope is those people that are feeling comfortable and want to get out there again, that they know that our place is a safe space to go."

No rush

Becky Scharfstein-McGettigan, owner of Creative Haven YXE in Saskatoon, said she doesn't think people will be rushing out to shop. 

"None of the customers I've talked to or still stay in touch with are eager to get out and go shopping," she said. "They're happy with the options that have been provided by their local shops to get the products that they want and have it delivered and no contact delivery."

Becky Scharfstein-McGettigan says she'll be opening her store with limited hours in phase two of the reopen plan. She doesn't think there will be enough demand to warrant full hours. (Supplied by Becky Scharfstein-McGettigan)

The long list of guidelines stores have to follow in order to reopen including increasing sanitation and limiting the number of people in the store. Shoppers are discouraged from touching anything unless they intend to buy it.

Extra precautions

Rayelle Klassen, store manager at Loom and Magpie Boutique in Regina, said that as a second-hand store, it's important for staff to take extra precautions.

"We have to grab everything with gloves, making sure there's no contact, and then we don't touch any of the items that come into our store for at least three days," Klassen said.

She does expect people will want to come to the store, though.

"I think people are going to be excited for things to be at least a little bit more normal than they have been the past couple of months."

'Still on the front lines'

Staff at McNally Robinson in Saskatoon have spent the last week cleaning and preparing the store for Phase 2 of the reopen plan. 

Bookseller Erica Hartman said she hopes shoppers will remember to be respectful of the retail workers.

"We're not an essential service but still on the front lines of everything that's going on," she said.

While the store will be open, she said she hopes people will still consider taking advantage of online sales and curbside pickup.

The reopen plan

The reopen plan has five phases. Throughout all the phases, the government is recommending people maintain physical distancing, stay home when sick, enhance cleaning, and wear personal protective equipment where appropriate.

Phase 1 of the reopen plan started May 4, allowing medical services including dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, opticians, podiatry, occupational therapy and chiropractic offices to reopen.

In Phase 2 starting May 19, farmers' markets, retail — including malls — and select personal services like hair stylists and massage therapists are allowed to open.

Retail guidelines say customers are allowed to return purchased items. People will be allowed to use change rooms and washrooms, with increased cleaning.

Hairstylists, massage therapists and acupuncturists are expected to wear surgical masks, face shields and aprons. 

Farmers' markets can operate as long as vendors are set up with extra distance between booths. They also can't offer food sampling and must store their food products away from customers until the time of purchase. Reusable bags, cups and containers are prohibited.

Outside of businesses, gatherings will still be limited to 10 people maximum.

Phases 3 to 5 do not yet have starting dates. Businesses like gyms and child-care centres are in Phase 3. Restaurants can also open then at 50 per cent capacity in Phase 3. Phase 4 includes businesses like bingo halls and casinos. Phase 5 is the lifting of long-term restrictions.

With files from Heidi Atter, Ashleigh Mattern


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