Business owners cautiously optimistic as Ontario lifts capacity limits
Business owners across Barrie are cautiously optimistic as the province lifts some safety measures, allowing restaurants, theatres, casinos and fitness centres to operate at full capacity after nearly two years.
"It's a step forward, for sure. As long as we don't go back, we'll be very happy," said Steve Ricalis.
Ricalis co-owns three establishments in the downtown core and said he had lost roughly $2 million in revenue during the pandemic amid lockdowns and restrictions.
"Everybody thought it was going to last three months, six months, one year, two years. Now it's two years. It's crazy," he said.
Ricalis said he took out loans to keep his businesses afloat, with nearly 125 employees on the payroll.
He said he also paid almost completely out of pocket for plexiglass to separate customers.
"We spent almost around $40,000 for these plastic partisans, and now, what am I going to do with them?" he asked.
Ricalis said he would likely keep the partisans until the spring but is waiting for guidance from the province or public health.
While Ricalis is anxious to fill seats, Krista Westerneng at Namaste North Yoga Studio said they are taking a more gradual approach.
"We're so excited to be seeing some restrictions lifting and welcoming more people back into our space, but we are just slowly increasing class sizes based on the comfort and safety of our students," she explained.
Late last week, the province announced that more restrictions and protocols would ease in the coming months with its long-term pandemic plan.
Proof of vaccination mandates will start to lift in the new year, and masking could become a thing of the past by the spring, as long as COVID-19 trends don't become a concern.
The Simcoe Muskoka health unit reports 82 per cent of eligible residents are fully immunized.
On Monday, the health unit listed 43 new COVID-19 infections. There are also three elementary school outbreaks in the region, with dozens of student infections, but no schools have closed.
Premier Doug Ford said the province's plan was "super cautious."
Capacity restrictions on nightclubs, wedding receptions and strip clubs will lift in mid-November.