As businesses in Ontario are now able to lift many of the restrictions that have been in place for much of the pandemic, the head of the local Chamber of Commerce hopes people will be patient with business owners who choose to keep some of them in place.
As of Tuesday, the province of Ontario has lifted nearly all of its restrictions required for businesses dealing with COVID-19, including capacity limits and proof of vaccination, among others.
Masking in public remains in place, but there are indications the provincial government will lift that restriction in the near future.
Although those restrictions have been lifted as requirements, the province is allowing proof of vaccination or capacity limits to remain in place if a business chooses to do so.
The lifting of restrictions is welcomed by Rory Ring, CEO of the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce.
“That will help us get back to stimulating our economy, get our businesses firing on all cylinders,” said Ring. “It’s one step in the right direction.”
With labour shortages in many business sectors, Ring said many businesses like restaurants and gyms will welcome a lifting of capacity limits that often required a dedicated staff member to keep count of patrons or to check vaccine passports.
“That has been a major burden. Not only have they been dealing with the nature of the pandemic themselves, the business community has been responsible for implementing and policing much of the legislation and policy development that has happened over the last two years,” said Ring. “These are folks, especially on the small business side, really just want to run their business.”
Some business owners may choose to keep some of these restrictions in place.
“Within the workplace, many of these businesses have come through multiple iterations of lockdowns and have lost a lot of their workforce, who have gone on to take other positions. As you start to reopen, they can’t afford for their staff to get ill. If they maintain certain protocols within that business, it’s there to protect their staff and thereby the citizens of our community,” said Ring.
He acknowledges there may be some members of the public who will not take kindly to businesses who choose to keep the restrictions in place.
“What we really want to be able to impress upon people is the need to be respectful of those businesses that are making decisions to keep some of these protocols in place and vaccine passport requirements because the government has really left that up to the businesses to make that decision and that will be led by what feedback they are getting from their customers,” said Ring.
Steel City MMA has faced four lockdowns and countless pivots as a result of the pandemic, said owner Brent Fryia. The lifting of restrictions will change things quite a bit at its expanded 126 Queen Street East space the business moved into last year.
“Obviously operating any business where your margins aren’t huge, operating at 50 per cent capacity is not sustainable. That makes things doable for us again,” said Fryia.
People will still need to wear a mask when entering and exiting the building, but Fryia said other than that working out at Steel City MMA will look very different than it has throughout the pandemic so far.
The business has stayed afloat thanks to a loyal membership base and various pandemic-based loans and government funding streams.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Fryia.
He knows not every business has fared as well and acknowledges there may still be tough times ahead.
“I think people are thinking now that things are open, that things are in the clear and they don’t realize that things are going to tough for small businesses for a while because even though they are fully open, they are dealing with a backlog of debt and accrued bills and stuff they have to worry about,” said Fryia. “A lot of businesses are still going to be in a tough spot, for sure.”