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Elora: uncertainty looms in a tourist town

ELORA – The village normally bustling with activity from tourists and locals was quiet after the province mandated restaurants and bars to close their doors to the public on Tuesday.

ELORA – The village normally bustling with activity from tourists and locals was quiet after the province mandated restaurants and bars to close their doors to the public on Tuesday.

At Wreckless Eric, a burrito and coffee shop in downtown Elora, manager Rachel Bingham anticipated a usual day of work but this soon changed. 

“I came in at five for a normal day and four hours later I locked the doors,” Bingham said. “It's not how we expected this day to go.”

Jonathan Laurencic, Elora BIA chair and founder of Elora Brewing Co., said with their restaurant and one’s carrying their beer closing, the business will take a significant hit.

“Not having the restaurant and restaurants across Ontario eliminates a substantial portion of our income,” Laurencic said. “We’re a little bit lucky that we still have the ability to sell beer out of our front door and the LCBO … so we have a couple outlets for our beer but obviously not really enough to satisfy the business long-term.”

With the retail store still partially open there is some work at the craft brewery but Laurencic said they had to make some tough decisions regarding shifts. 

“We’ve had to take the unfortunate steps of cancelling all of our part-time hourly shifts for the restaurant,” Laurencic said. “We’re working with staff to give them hours wherever possible and anybody who thinks it’s best to receive a record of employment and apply for EI, that’s totally fine as well.”

Laurencic recalled the last weekend being surprisingly busy considering the news. He said these impact will be felt beyond just restaurants and bars in Elora.

“There are a lot of businesses that aren’t associated with restaurants that are no doubt going to be hit similarly hard,” he said. “No matter who you are, you’re going to be taking a hit.”

The federal government has announced economic measures to help workers and businesses in this time of crisis. A press release from the prime minister’s office said there  will be up to $27 billion in direct support to Canadian workers and businesses as part of the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. 

Laurencic said he is staying on top of the consistent flow of news and support available for his staff.

“What we’re trying to do is keep staff as informed as possible about the news even if they’re reading it themselves,” he said. “We’re taking it on our shoulders to make sure everybody is educated as possible on what their options are.”

Some Elora restaurants are planning a move to take out only for the time being. Wreckless Eric will not be one of them. Bingham said it’s difficult to maintain proper social distancing based on the size of the store. 

“Because people know us as a sit down place, it is difficult to get people to not pull the chairs off the table and have a seat,” Bingham said. 

Elora Fish and chips shop Somethin’ Fishee has had a surprisingly busy week. Owner Sharon Gamble said March isn’t normally a busy time for them and it could be because they are exclusively a take-out restaurant.

“I thought maybe because it’s take-out, there’s not 20 people standing in here to get food,” she said. “It’s not a congregation, I thought maybe that’s why I was busier than normal.”

Gamble explained that the restaurants in the area have a tough three months from December to February of slow business. March is usually when things pick up. 

“It finally looks like your window of opportunity, ‘Here we go we’re about to get into our better months,’ then this happens,” she said. “The winter is hard enough to get through, let alone this. This is not going to help matters at all.”

Gamble said she isn’t taking this for granted and it could change at any time.

“Tomorrow they could say ‘No more take-out,’” Gamble said. “If someone tells me I gotta close, I’ll close.”

Laurencic said ultimately the measures in place are for the greater good.

“I think the more people try to do now will help us in the coming weeks or months in terms of getting coronavirus under control,” he said. “It’s scary and frustrating but we have to do our part for the health and safety of Ontarians.”

Aaron Ciancone, president of Pearle Hospitality who owns and operates the Elora Mill Hotel & Spa, stressed the company’s commitment to the Elora community. 

“It is the social responsibility of every single one of us to do what we can to flatten the curve and help to protect the health and safety of everyone,” Ciancone said in an email. “I believe our community will emerge stronger than ever, knowing we can count on each other when the going gets tough.”

Laurencic said the hope is locals will continue to support the businesses that are here to help keep Elora’s downtown thriving. 

“You don’t really find too many small towns that have the quality restaurants that are in Elora,” he said. 

Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com




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