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Timmins' small businesses start the process of reopening

Shoppers will notice changes at businesses allowed to reopen

As Timmins businesses start to reopen, Lemongrass store owner Sonya Biemann said it was a little “nervewracking” moving and opening at a new location amid the pandemic.

As part of the first phase of Ontario's COVID-19 reopening, stores with street-front entrances are allowed to open, with restrictions to allow for physical distancing. 

While each store has different limits on the number of people allowed inside, customers will notice common changes like hand sanitizer at the entrance, as well as masks and gloves being available for shoppers.

Biemann has been excited to move Lemongrass down the street from its former location to 254 Third Ave. (next to Altered Reality) since December. When the pandemic started, she said it was “scary” not knowing whether she would be able to open up again.

The support she received from Timmins residents during the pandemic has been “amazing,” she added.

“I want to thank people of Timmins for supporting locally … really pulled through to support a lot of local businesses in town,” Biemann said. “We’re all in this together and we’ll get through this all together.”

As a precaution, only 10 people are allowed inside at a time and they are asked to stay six feet apart from each other. Customers are asked to put a glove on if they’re going to touch an item.

Since Tuesday’s opening, Biemann said more than 100 customers have visited the store.

During the two-month closure for the pandemic, she’s been doing Facebook live streams which helped her to stay connected and develop personal relationships with her customers. Biemann also applied for federal funding and had to lay off three part-time staff, some of whom are working on a volunteer basis now.

Apparel store Steinberg & Mahn, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, opened for curbside pickup last week. On Tuesday, Darren Taylor reopened the doors to customers, although it's not business as usual.

Only three customers are allowed in at once. After every use, changerooms will be cleaned, and the counter and equipment will be also be disinfected.

If people try on an item that isn't bought, it will be steamed and taken out of inventory for three days.

For people not comfortable having other customers in the store while they're shopping, Taylor is happy to make appointments.

“I will do anything to service the customer, whether it’s after hours, if I want to close the door for a half hour then I’ll do it,” he said.

The store has been closed since late March. When the province announced the changes to businesses that could open, Taylor said they took the required precautions to be ready.

"We contacted a supply company here in Timmins, a local company, and we got all our supplies from him. The hand sanitizer, masks, cleansers, everything that we needed to be ready for the public and also to protect our staff,” he said.

Taylor noted there aren't too many functions for people to attend and guys to get dressed up for, adding they do have shorts and gear for golfers.

While there are precautions in place, he foresees a change in shopping habits.

"I think a lot of guys aren’t going to be coming in to play dress up. They’re going to get what they need and get out,” he said.

The Unforgettables Home and Garden Decor store also opened its doors again this week. They are limiting the number of customers to four people at a time.

“I’m enforcing that. I’m not being slack on letting five people in instead. It’s four (people) and that’s it,” said owner Joe Stanlake.

When the pandemic started, the uncertainty of how long the situation would last made it difficult.

He said he didn’t think stores would be allowed to reopen so soon. He doesn’t expect his business to start booming right away but is encouraged to be able to operate again.

In mid-April, he came up with an idea of holding online auctions as a way to stay in touch with the community and bring in some revenue.

As he's self-employed and doesn't have any staff, Stanlake said he could only apply for Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Since the criteria for Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans have been extended, he's hoping to be able to apply for that funding as well.

Several concerns were raised as some downtown businesses started to reopen.

Noella Rinaldo, the executive director at Downtown Timmins BIA, said some businesses didn’t feel ready to open again and preferred to stay closed.

“I was very happy to see that they were very mindful they wanted to open correctly, that they wanted to be sure everybody felt comfortable coming into their business,” she said.

There have been concerns regarding rent from both landlords and renters, Rinaldo said.

“It’s a bit of a struggle. There’s no rulebook,” she said, recommending people come up with a business plan and think of every single aspect of the reopening procedure to make sure their staff and the public stay safe.

Some businesses have also been concerned with getting their staff back to work and not knowing when they will be allowed to open again.

Timmins has more than 30 hair shops and over 30 aesthetician and spa salons, Rinaldo noted. Taking into account how many people worked in each salon before the pandemic, that’s a lot of people who are currently unemployed and are anxious to go back to work, she said.

Another concern was in regard to daycare and childcare centres which remain closed, so employees who have children can't go back to work until the centres are open again.

"That's a big one, so hopefully when childcare opens up, we'll have more employees coming back," Rinaldo said.

There a few funding streams available for eligible businesses under a new initiative announced by the Timmins Chamber of Commerce on May 11.