Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay businesses welcome back customers, adapt to new normal

Some Thunder Bay businesses that were able to reopen on Tuesday are rushing to keep up with demand from customers. Others are expecting slower-than-usual business for the near future.

Some retail stores, animal services among businesses reopening after COVID-19 closure

Karen Morrill, owner of The Dog House & More in Thunder Bay, says she's relieved her business has been able to resume grooming appointments as part of phase one of Ontario's economic reopening. (Karen Morrill)

At Karen Morrill's dog grooming and pet supply store the phone has been ringing off the hook.

The owner of The Dog House & More in Thunder Bay, Ont. has been fielding a steady stream of requests from pet owners. They've been calling since Thursday, when the province announced that certain businesses, including animal grooming services and retail stores with street entrances would be able to open their doors again on May 19, as part of phase one of Ontario's reopening plan

"It's been crazy," she said, "the phone has been blowing up." 

The business is already booking appointments into August. As they work to catch up with demand, Morrill said customer safety is top of mind. 

The store has implemented numerous measures to comply with provincial guidelines including limiting the number of customers who can enter, supplying hand sanitizer and installing a plastic guard at the cash register. 

'The phone has been blowing up.' Groomers are fielding a flood of calls as some pet services resume in Ontario. We talk to a Thunder Bay groomer who says her phone has been ringing non-stop. 6:49

Morrill said she's not yet reopening the training side of her business, but is grateful that the loosening of restrictions is allowing them to inch closer to normal. She expects the next few months to continue to be very busy.

"There's going to be lots of dogs and we're just gonna get 'er done," she said.

Some stores offer appointment shopping

Other retail store owners in Thunder Bay are also happy to once again be welcoming customers, but are expecting a much less hectic return to business.

"It's a great feeling to be back up and running," said Christopher Shaen, the owner of Swartz Fine Fashions, adding that they're doing whatever they can to make customers feel safe walking through the doors. 

Pandemic-related precautions will mean that shoppers will notice some differences, including a limit of two people in the store at one time, and hand-washing stations. The store is also providing masks, and offering appointment shopping for those who wish to have the store to themselves. 

"Safety first. People are not going to shop unless they feel safe," he said, adding that they expect traffic to be lower than usual at first and that some of the changes to retail may be in place for years.

James Nigro is the owner of Mars Clothing in Thunder Bay. (Dan Varnus)

At Mars Clothing in the city's north-side, owner James Nigro said he's also looking for creative ways to make customers feel comfortable. 

His store also reopened to walk-in traffic on Tuesday. Hours are reduced to five days per week for now, he said, since staff have had to be reduced.

As for safety measures, he's also limiting the number of customers in the store at any giving time, stepping up cleaning measures and giving customers the option to use an online app to book private shopping appointments. 

Nigro said the past few months have been difficult ones. An ongoing concern is the how the continuing closure of restaurants might affect foot traffic to his business, which is located in the city's north core entertainment district. 

Although foot traffic was slow on Tuesday, Nigro said he has been receiving a lot of positive messages about the reopening from supportive customers.

"I feel like people that shop here are super supportive so they're excited," he said.