Stores, salons, cafés cautiously reopen as B.C. restrictions ease

Greater Victoria businesses are cracking open their doors and consumers are out shopping again, as virus-related restrictions eased around the province on Tuesday.

On Day 1 of Phase 2 of B.C.’s restart plan, some business owners were eager to welcome customers back, while others stayed closed as they figure out how to navigate new rules and bring staff back to work.

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At The Natural Hair Salon on View Street, all five salon chairs, spaced six feet apart, were occupied by people getting their hair cut and coloured by stylists wearing masks. One customer waited outside at a wooden table.

The salon has halved the number of chairs to allow distancing. Owner Philip Ferreira said he’ll extend the hours to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. next week to meet the “out-of-control” demand.

All stations are sanitized before clients sits down and there might be less chatting, as stylists won’t talk to clients while washing their hair, Ferreira said.

Brigid Pyke stood at the door of Munro’s Books on Government Street while staff fetched a novel for her. The James Bay resident said while she misses being able to browse new books inside the store, the new way of shopping might result in fewer impulse buys.

Pyke walked into downtown instead of taking public transit, which she has not done “since this fiasco started.”

During her downtown errands, which included a trip to London Drugs and the bank, Pyke has noticed that the stress level is still high. While she was asking a pharmacy employee about buying a box of masks — “I think I need one to get my hair cut” — the employee stopped to scold another customer who had broken the two-metre rule.

Such awkward encounters are abundant as people try to follow rules that vary from place to place, with new signs and floor decals telling them where to stand or which direction to walk.

Theresa Palmer, owner of the Out of Ireland shop on Government Street, was posting signs about physical distancing as she reopened her doors Tuesday. She has installed transparent barriers at the check-out counter and removed fittings to open up more space in the store. As in many retail stores, hand sanitizer is front and centre and its use is highly encouraged. “We’re very excited to be back,” she said. “I think we’re all going to have to use a bit of common sense and it won’t be a problem.”

Larger shopping centres are adjusting this week as well. Many did not totally close, because some tenants are essential services.

Standing on Government Street in the sun, Victoria resident Manjeet Ornstein buzzed with excitement as she rattled off her agenda for Tuesday. First, she and a friend planned to walk around Government House to see the spring blooms.

“And then we’re going shopping — whatever is open. And then we’re going to have a bite to eat — whatever is open,” she said.

Ornstein said she’s not nervous about shopping or eating out as long as spaces aren’t too crowded.

“It’s very good for the soul,” she said. “The soul is very depressed right now.”

Ornstein said they’d likely browse around the Bay Centre, which has more than 20 retailers and seven food outlets open. The downtown mall and the Bay itself will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The shopping centre has the doors open to bring in more fresh air.

While most downtown restaurants remain closed, Ornstein and her friend seemed enticed by Earls Kitchen and Bar, which at 11:30 a.m. was welcoming its first customers inside and on the patio.

On Lower Johnson Street, a group of runners jogged from Body Dynamics Headquarters, a gym that is preparing to reopen May 25. Island Health last week gave the go-ahead for gyms to open Tuesday, but owner Jason Ball said he needed another week to put his plan in place.

Neon tape divides the floor into a dozen eight-foot-square pods where people can work out while keeping their distance from each other, Ball said. All spots must be booked online in advance to avoid overcrowding, he said.

“We have to make sure we’re following the rules and that everybody here feels safe,” Ball said.

The Greater Victoria Public Library remains closed for now, although chief executive Maureen Sawa said planning for a gradual restoration of library services is underway, and an update will be available in the next two weeks.

Tourism has been hard hit by the pandemic, and many major attractions and activities are still not available.

The Royal B.C. Museum’s doors remain shut. Chief executive Jack Lohman said in a statement on Tuesday that it’s following the guidelines of public-health authorities and WorkSafe B.C. and will be communicating its plans later this week.

Tally-Ho Carriage Tours owner Donna Friedlander said it’s too soon to open. Given that the business is largely tourism-based, she also wonders if there will be any business this season. If the horses do get back on the road this year, it will likely be in July or August, she said.

Meanwhile, she has 18 heavy horses to feed on the farm. An online fundraising campaign had raised more than $30,000 by mid-day Tuesday.

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