Northern Ontario restaurant, business owners react to first days of Step 1 reopening

Restaurants, bars and some retail shops across Ontario are opening their doors again today.

More worshippers can gather for indoor religious services starting today as well

Ontario entered Step 1 of its reopening Friday. Due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, communities in the Porcupine Health Unit's coverage area remained in lockdown. (CBC)

Restaurants, bars and some retail shops across Ontario are opening their doors again today.

The province has moved to Step 1 of its reopening after several months under a stay-at-home order because of COVID-19.

The one area staying closed is the Porcupine health district, where there are still over 360 active cases. That includes the James Bay Coast, Timmins and small towns like Iroquois Falls.

Jeff Madden, an Iroquois Falls town councillor, opened a home decor shop in the midst of the pandemic last fall.

The town has seen very little COVID-19 activity, but Madden believes it's best that it stay in lockdown with the rest of the province. 

"I think I'm a little torn on that one," said Madden. "We have to stay the course. That's the only way we're going to get through as a region."

Madden does worry that people from Porcupine will travel to newly opened stores and restaurants elsewhere in the North, which could spread the virus. 

'Not bad, but not great'

Jennifer Fournier, owner of Chat Noir Books in downtown New Liskeard, can open to customers Friday morning for the first time in months.

She's allowed to have 15 per cent of her capacity under Step 1, which amounts to three customers. 

"It's not bad for us, but it's not great," said Fournier. "Three is a pretty tiny number when you think about it.

"I mean, I'm happy to have three. I'm happy that our store is as large as it is square footage wise to allow us to have three people in.

"It's not ideal, obviously, but it's good." 

As for the back-and-forth of reopening and closing during the pandemic, Fournier said it's starting to feel like "a bit of a habit."

Justin Chaumont, general manager of The Kouzzina, says they decided this winter to invest in more outdoor seating. (Erik White/CBC)

"I'm cautiously optimistic and hopeful that with the rate of vaccine that we're seeing, vaccinations that we're seeing in our district, that we'll be able to continue opening this time around rather than getting back into a closing situation."

In other cities, eateries are setting up temporary seating in their parking lots, while others have spent money permanently expanding their patios.

The Kouzzina, formerly known as Pat and Mario's, has been in business in Sudbury since the early 1980s.

Justin Chaumont, general manager of The Kouzzina, said they decided this winter to invest in more outdoor seating, which opened Friday. 

"You've got to put in a little bit to get it back," said Chaumont. "And it's been a really hard year for this industry and a lot of industries. And, you know, we've all had to get creative. This is just another step of that, really."

Operators of the Kouzzina in Sudbury decided to expand their outdoor dining well ahead of the province's plan to reopen restaurants and bars Friday. (Erik White/CBC)

Chaumont said he will wait a couple of years to see how the public responds to the increase in patio seating, and if outdoor dining becomes a hit in Sudbury.

"Are they going to feel comfortable right away, or is it going to be a slow ease?  I think it's kind of a split... people are chomping at the bit to get out and some people are still going to be hesitant.

"So, yeah, we'll have to wait and see." 

The Islamic Centre of Northern Ontario in Sudbury will welcome in 20 worshippers at a a time starting Friday, double what they've had for prayers for the past few months. (Erik White/CBC )

Indoor religious services, including weddings and funerals, can now also have larger crowds, with up to 15 per cent of capacity allowed.

At the Islamic Centre of Northern Ontario in Sudbury, this means having 20 worshippers for a prayer session instead of the 10 they've had the past few months.

Members will continue to be required to do the traditional washing at home instead of at the mosque or masjid. They are also asked to bring a mat from home to pray on or use a disposable paper sheet. 

Worshippers at this Sudbury mosque have been asked to do their traditional washing at home and to bring a mat to pray on or use a disposal paper sheet. (Erik White/CBC )

"So they come, they pray and they leave," said member Fraaz Mahmood.

President Mohammed Anwar said that for the past 15 months, they have not been able to hold the usual community gatherings, including pot-luck meals and cricket games, or even have casual conversations after prayer.

"And we are missing those things. Hopefully things will get better and things will go back to normal. That is our wish." 


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