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Barrie's business community reacts to province's new stay-at-home order

Some merchants glad to see more measures being placed on big box stores; 'This should have been done at the very beginning and it's a shame that it has taken this long to do it'

Today's announcement of a new provincial emergency order has some in the Barrie business world wondering not only what took so long to include all retailers — including big box stores — but also if more could be done to help small businesses.

Less than a week since announcing a provincial shutdown for 28 days, Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday that a stay-at-home order will commence one minute after midnight on Thursday, April 8.

The order, which has been made to curb a third wave of COVID-19 that includes widespread variants, is set to last four weeks.

If it's not extended, the order would be lifted May 6.

Ford said admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) in the past week "are increasing faster than the worst-case scenario predicted by our experts.”

All retail stores will be closed for in-person shopping, with the exception of grocery stores and pharmacies. 

Discount and big box stores will be forced to block off their non-essential areas and only sell the essential goods in-person. Essential items include groceries, household cleaning supplies, pharmacy items (pharmaceutical, health and personal care items, and pet care supplies). 

Malls will also be closed except for curbside pick-up and customers will pick up by appointment only.

Bliss Beneath owner Tamara DiSaverio took to Facebook in December with her frustration on being able to buy a bra and panties at Walmart while her Essa Road boutique — which offers similar products — was forced to close.

DiSaverio said today’s provincial announcement that big box stores will be forced to only sell only essential items should have already been enacted.

“This should have been done at the very beginning and it's a shame that it has taken this long to do it,” DiSaverio told BarrieToday. “The decisions they’re making so far have not been showing a concern for the health and well-being of the people, but rather it seems to be about money.”

DiSaverio said she's eager to hear more specifics about what Wednesday's announcement will include, aside from basic descriptions such as "personal care items."

"I wouldn’t care to guess what that actually means and am interested as to what they’re going to allow big box stores to sell,” she said.

In the meantime, DiSaverio will be forced to revert to curbside pick-up, which she says doesn't work well for her under-garment business.

“You can’t really try it on and give it back in this line of products. If you haven't shopped her in the past, it is difficult to know what you want,” DiSaverio said. “That said, I have taken the time during all this to get my online store going in case of this very emergency, so I hope that helps.”

In an email on Wednesday, Walmart Canada spokesperson Felicia Fefer told BarrieToday: “As a retail business providing essential services, Walmart is complying with new government restrictions in our Ontario stores.”

Fefer added the company’s website allows customers to shop for a wide range of items by using the curbside pick-up or delivery service. An app also helps keep track of in-store customers.

“To manage in-store capacity, our associates at the door use an app to count customers,” she said. “The app is specifically configured for each store, based on square footage, to meet reduced capacity requirements.”

Barrie Chamber of Commerce executive director Paul Markle said he wasn’t surprised that the restrictions already in place were being tightened up.

“To be honest, I didn't think the measures they had in place made much sense,” Markle told BarrieToday. “This order coming down today makes more sense, as far as trying to slow down the spread (of the virus), but there are some things I wish they would still look at so the businesses that have been safe can still operate.”

Markle referenced some types of businesses that should be allowed to continue.

“Look at photographers. There's no reason they can’t provide their services when they can be outside and more than six feet,” he said. 

Markle believes businesses would have a better chance of survival if those who were able were allowed to deliver their services and products outdoors.

“There are ways businesses can follow health guidelines and still stay afloat," he said. "Many businesses are feeling like they’re being punished, and that may not be the case, but it feels that way for the owners.

“We need to be smarter on how we deal with restrictions," Markle added. "The virus isn't spread by a business; it's spread by people and so we just have to maintain the distance between each other, not shut down businesses.”

The chamber's executive director also wants to see as many people vaccinated as possible. He is ready to get his shot.

“I was eligible because of my age and I’ve signed up for the vaccine,” said Markle, who turns 55 in a month. “Everyone getting vaccinated is the only way we fully get out of this and the sooner it happens, the better.”

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said he agreed with today's decision to enact the stay-at-home order, although he said wasn’t pleased it had to come to this.

“It is very serious, particularly in the GTA. And our numbers stayed stable 'til last week and now they’ve started to move up, even here, so I understand why they’re doing it,” said Lehman. “I’m not happy about it (and) everybody’s frustrated, but given what’s going on, the government had to act.”

Health and safety inspectors and provincial offences officers will also increase enforcement at essential businesses in regional hot zones to continue protecting essential workers while on the job. 

There have been 19,500 COVID-related workplace inspections and investigations across the province since the beginning of 2021. During those visits, inspectors have issued more than 15,000 orders, in excess of 450 COVID-related tickets, and stopped unsafe work related to the virus 24 times.

— With files from Bob Bruton