Businesses eye cautious reopening plans as province slowly lifts COVID-19 restrictions

Though the first round of retail stores approved by the province began taking steps to reopen on Tuesday, some business owners in our region have already been preparing for attending to customers and making sales during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

'We want everybody to stay safe,' says Shannon Gilbert, owner of Flowers by Design in Windsor

Thousands of businesses across Ontario began reopening on Tuesday — including some clothing stores, flower shops and even record stores. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

Though the first round of retail stores approved by the province began taking steps to reopen on Tuesday, some business owners in our region have already been preparing for attending to customers and making sales during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

And while all business-owners who spoke to CBC News said they're taking steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus, not all plan on following the same rules or even opening on the same day. 

Pam Johnston, owner of Audrey's Closet and Company in Windsor, explained that her store had a "very soft opening on Tuesday," having avoided announcing the store's reopening on social media. 

Pam Johnston owns Audrey's Closet and Company in Windsor. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

"I did have one customer [Tuesday] afternoon, who had called me during the closing about something she'd seen in the window," said Johnston, whose business is a women's consignment clothing store. 

"So she came in and tried on a pair of boots, so that was good."

Johnston said she plans on slowly reopening her store, and will pay attention to the COVID-19 numbers reported by the federal and provincial governments. 

WATCH | Pam Johnston talks about reopening her Windsor clothing store:

Pam Johnston, who owns Audrey's Closet and Company in Windsor, says she held a 'soft opening' for her business on May 19. She described reopening her business amid the ongoing COVID-19 as intimidating.' 1:21

Though she described reopening her business as "intimidating," Johnston added that she's taking "every safety precaution" to protect herself and her customers, including enforcing six-foot distance markers, asking all clients to wear gloves when they enter, as well as making sure that everyone is aware of maximum occupancy.

"I really don't get more than three or four people in the store at a time anyway, and my clientele is very respectful, so I don't foresee a real problem," she said.

COVID-19 makes it difficult to source some products bought abroad

Shannon Gilbert — who owns Flowers by Design in Windsor — said the ongoing pandemic has made it difficult to source products like roses from Ecuador and Colombia.

"There's certain things that we still can't get," Gilbert said. "Tulip season's already done … we have to depend on the local tulips, which are done."

Gilbert's store was closed between late March and late April, previously reopening for curbside pickup and no contact deliveries. 

Shannon Gilbert owns Flowers by Design in Windsor. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

"We reopened at the end, just so that we had a chance to get ready for Mother's Day," Gilbert said, adding that her business was able to rely on a strong web presence established before the pandemic struck.

"There are some adjustments that we have to make as far as what's available, but fortunately for us, this kind of business — it was easier for us to transition back."

Gilbert added that she didn't install Plexiglass shields in her business, instead choosing to wear masks around customers to protect against coronavirus.

WATCH | Shannon Gilbert shares her reopening plans:

Shannon Gilbert, who owns Flowers by Design in Windsor, says her business slowly began reopening for curbside pickup and contactless delivery in late April. Now that the physical store is once again open to customers, Gilbert says she's taking steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus. 0:27

"If somebody wants to wander in, we'll have hand sanitizer available and we will keep the number of people in the store limited," she said.

"We want everybody to stay safe. We're glad that we can all get back to work and hopefully some sense of normalcy."

Customers following rules, continuing to stay safe

Despite the COVID-19 rules that remain in place, some business owners like Mary Ann Peloza — who co-owns the Cheeky Monkey record shop in Sarnia — said they're pleased with Tuesday's sales. 

"There was never a time when there wasn't someone in here," Peloza said. "We had a lot of people making up for lost time. Overall, we had a really excellent day business-wise and personally seeing a lot of friends we haven't seen in a long time."

For her part, Peloza said customers also respected physical distancing rules, even though "it wasn't really an issue, because we are a very large floor space."

LISTEN | Mary Ann Peloza talks about reopening a record store amid COVID-19

Starting today, customers are now permitted venture inside most retail stores. How did it go? We asked Mary Anne Peloza, co-owner of the Cheeky Monkey, a record shop in downtown Sarnia. 7:57

Peloza added that plastic shields have been installed at the front counter to protect both customers and employees.

"We do have a table right at the front door with hand sanitizer," she said. "Everyone that walks in, we asked them to please make use of it and everyone complied."

With files from Vince Robinet and Afternoon Drive


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