Protocols in place as retail stores open
On Tuesday, Denise Kacarevich could be found installing a doorbell at her store, Seasons in Creemore. It is one of the measures she is taking to control the flow of traffic through her Mill Street store as retail opens in Ontario.
With 1,900 square feet of retail space, Kacarevich is confident that a limited number of customers inside the store can maintain that essential two-metre distance from one another.
During the past two months, the store has been closed to the public except by private shopping appointments. Kacarevich said although those customers made up only a small portion of pre-pandemic sales, the model worked fairly well. For the most part, people have been cautious about touching only the items they intend to buy, and following safety protocols. Between customers, door handles, railings and the debit machine are sanitized.
But her main customer base are tourists, and by opening retail they will inevitably come.
“I was between a stone and a hard spot because I could open but if people don’t come to town I’m not really going to get any business,” said Kacarevich.
She said although she is confident that businesses will be able to safely control what’s happening in their own stores, she has concerns about the flow of foot traffic on the streets now that every business is opening and the nice weather has arrived.
“I’m not worried about the store, I’m worried about all the people outside, trying to keep them distancing from each other,” Kacarevich.
People have already been lining up at restaurants offering take-out and stores that have limited space. With more customers and limited access to stores, there will be longer line-ups.
“With the line-ups and ringing a doorbell, maybe people who aren’t really shopping and just killing time, probably won’t line up to come in a store anymore,” said Kacarevich.
She said, wishful thinking, she could have people line up down the side street but with people lining up at businesses on Mill Street, there is potential for lines to block sidewalks and make it uncomfortable for people walking by.
She is hoping for a traffic flow plan so that customers can line up safely, and in an orderly fashion.
Late last week Premier Doug Ford announced, as part of the first phase of re-opening the economy in Ontario, that “retail services that are not in shopping malls and have separate street-front entrances with measures in place that can enable physical distancing, such as limiting the number of customers in the store at any one time and booking appointments beforehand or on the spot.”
Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner addressed concerns about the opening of retail during his weekly media briefing. He said it is a calculated risk but a necessary one for the economy and for the health of the population.
“In no way can I say it is absolutely safe. It’s a calculated risk,” he said.
Acknowledging we are going to have to live with COVID-19 until there is a vaccine, he said, “We’re going to have to make trade off risks” urging people to continue to exercise caution and follow physical distancing measures.
“It could all come back if we’re not careful,” said Gardner. “You can have a relatively low level of circulation and if we aren’t collectively careful about the physical distancing and the hand-washing and careful business practices then it can take off again… We’ll have to watch very carefully to see if it’s having a negative impact on disease. If surveillance shows the number of cases on the rise, restrictions will have to be put back in place.”
To help with the re-opening of retail, a tool kit has been developed in partnership with the Creemore BIA, Clearview Chamber of Commerce and the Township of Clearview.
One hundred tool kits are being distributed free to Clearview businesses, the costs covered by the municipality. They include PPE, sanitizer, floor stickers and posters to help control traffic in stores.
BIA president Laurie Severn said the signs will help communicate a consistent message and set expectations for shoppers.
Businesses will be managing their re-openings how they see fit but there are some consistent approaches. Customers could see businesses maintain their current practices of offering curbside pick-up and shopping-by-appointment, as well as opening to a limited number of shoppers at a time.
On Tuesday, Severn welcomed a limited number of customers to her stores, Heirloom 142 and Lagom 142.
“All the people who came in were really respectful,” she said, adding they were wearing gloves and masks, and everyone used the hand sanitizer available. “I think customers felt comfortable shopping in our store and many commented on how great it was to be allowed in stores again.”
Heirloom has opted to open with limited hours and limit the number of people in the store to two at a time.
A radio campaign aimed at residents is thanking them for shopping local during the past two months and what they can expect for the next while.
The bottom line, said Severn: “We are trying to set an expectation that shopping is going to look a little different from now on. It’s not going to be as it used to be because we have to take different precautions.”