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Sault Ste. Marie businesses starting to see post-lockdown foot traffic

Establishments hanging in there, despite taking a financial hit during latest lockdown phase
Open for business sign  (Pexels-Kaique Rocha)
(Pexels/Kaique Rocha)

It was a packed house at Mulligan’s Irish Pub Friday night – the first packed house prior to the provincial lockdown that shuttered a number of local businesses for about eight weeks. 

Nearly a week removed from exiting lockdown, chef and pub manager Garet Beauchesne said it’s been a challenge for staff to constantly shift between opening and shutting down, hosting patrons and offering takeout only. But all that aside, he said it’s nice to have the place open again, noting that more than a few folks were excited to get out for some food and a cold draught beer.

“We had a good night. That was really the first night that everyone came out, I think,” he said. 

When lockdown lifted Feb. 16, Mulligan’s didn’t see that kind of response instantaneously. 

Glenn MacDonald, Sault Ste. Marie Golf Club board of directors president, hopes that the people using the free winter trails on the golf course for walking, running, snowshoeing or fatbiking will eventually start trickling into Mulligan’s regularly. 

“People are wanting to get out again, but I still think there’s a little bit of hesitancy, which is only natural, because we had that before we shut down too,” MacDonald said. 

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Board of directors member Andre Litalien said the pub operated under lockdown by offering takeout, which also included specials, weekly features and lowering prices on the menu overall. It also closed on Sundays and Mondays in order to cut costs. 

He’s also grateful for Mulligan’s regulars who helped the establishment during the lockdown period.  

“Our customers did really well by supporting us on the takeout, there’s no doubt about that,” he told SooToday. “It certainly didn’t match the sales we normally are accustomed to, but it helped out in the long run by paying some of our bills.”

Mulligan’s has received some financial support through relief grants – and it’s still in the process of applying for additional help – but Litalien says that only covers some of the costs. 

He hopes the large patio area at Mulligan’s will act as its “saving grace” for the establishment, much like it did for the pub last year.  

“If we’re able to open our patio, we’ll do well, and that’s all we can hope for. It’s been a very tough year, there’s no doubt about that, and I think everybody in this business will agree that it’s taken a toll on staff, the morale,” he said.

“You’re up and you’re down, you’re open and you’re closed. So hopefully we can get to a point where we bring this pandemic under control and we can operate within the limits established.”

Vintage Games 'N Junque co-owner Michael Turcotte has noticed an increase in foot traffic in downtown Sault Ste. Marie, and that’s ultimately helping the bottom line at his Queen Street East business. He told SooToday that downtown was “pretty dead” during lockdown. 

“This week was really decent with people coming back in. I think people are just going stir-crazy from being at home,” he said. 

But he acknowledges that in terms of doing business, this lockdown was “terrible” compared to the last one. 

“The last one was good for us because of what we sell, but this one was very slow, so of course reopening was a huge benefit. We’ve seen a drastic increase in sales,” said Turcotte. “Despite the grants and whatever the government was offering, being open would have benefitted us much more.”

Vintage Games 'N Junque ownership has received some support in both loan and grant form, but Turcotte said candidly that it really hasn’t helped at all. 

And that’s just one of the reasons he's predicting that a number of businesses in Sault Ste. Marie will permanently close within the next two years. 

“It’s such a small amount that it doesn’t matter. I pay a lot of rent; my grant is at least a third of my rent alone,” said Turcotte.

“It helped – anything helps – but it’s not like a saving grace. I don’t think a lot of businesses, like a bar or a restaurant or that sort of thing, could sustain with that kind of funding, because their overhead and what they require to turn a profit is so much different.

“That’s why you’re seeing things close. It’s not that great.”

– SooToday