Ontario businesses prepare for Stage 2: ‘It’s sort of just a free-for-all’

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BARRIE, Ont. -- Hairstylists, restaurant operators and a host of other professionals across Ontario are about to welcome customers again for the first time in months, but that doesn't mean it's business as usual.

Stage 2 of the province's COVID-19 economic recovery plan officially took effect on Friday, giving a wide variety of businesses outside of the Toronto, Hamilton and Windsor areas permission to ramp up operations.

But communities cleared to resume aspects of pre-pandemic life are still grappling with the logistics of doing so, noting lack of government guidance and the pervasive presence of COVID-19 in other parts of the province make reopening a complex proposition.

In Barrie, Ont., employees of the Pie Wood Fired Pizza Joint spent Friday morning pacing the 70-seat patio with tape measures in a bid to space tables six metres apart in accordance with public health advice.

Operations Manager Melissa Valenticevic said the outdoor seating space will be able to accommodate roughly a quarter of its usual capacity, noting provincial rules governing Stage 2 mean restaurants are not yet allowed to offer indoor service.

Valenticevic said the restaurant's reopening protocol will require servers to wear masks during all interactions with customers. But that protocol was developed without any meaningful input from government, she said, and businesses have largely been left to fend for themselves as they try to navigate an unusual new landscape.

"It's sort of just a free-for-all," Valenticevic said in an interview. "Everyone is sort of just looking at what other businesses are doing and adapting based on how other people are operating."

But Valenticevic anticipates high demand even for more limited operations, noting the restaurant has been fielding phone calls and social media inquiries "non-stop" since word of the limited reopening got out earlier this week.

Elsewhere in Barrie, officials are preparing to welcome local patrons while encouraging potential out-of-town visitors to defer their travel plans.

Mayor Jeff Lehman said waterfront parking lots will be open only to city residents, in a move meant to deter those from Toronto and other harder-hit regions from taking advantage of Barrie's newly opened attractions.

"This is not the time for day-trippers to come up from the GTA," Lehman said Thursday.

--with files from Michelle McQuigge in Toronto

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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