Barrie restaurant owners hoping to finally cruise through the rest of the pandemic following a series of shutdowns say the latest rule has taken the wind out of their business sails.
Starting this past Wednesday, some businesses which the provincial government describes as "higher-risk indoor public settings where face coverings cannot always be worn" were required to ask for proof of vaccination against COVID-19.
The early result has been shocking for Grillicious Gourmet Tap and Grill owner Josie Fabreo, whose downtown Mulcaster Street restaurant has been near empty since the requirement came into effect.
“This week is like, oh my God, how are we going to survive?” she told BarrieToday. “Is it going to be like this all winter?
“Friday night… two people, and two people at lunch. It’s a slap. It’s not worth it to open," Fabreo added.
Restaurants that have parties and events booked and advance reservations may not have the same experience, she said, but those relying on walk-in business are suffering.
Around the corner on Dunlop Street East, Hooligans opened its indoor restaurant this past week, adding to its patio business, which has been running since the last re-opening.
But the result was anything but a celebration, says managing partner Adam Smith.
“It’s been very underwhelming,” Smith said on Sunday. “I think like any new measure, people are trying to get accustomed to what it means to them, how it affects their routine.
“We certainly hope it does change because we were geared up for a big opening and it sort of came with a thud," he added.
The Hooligans rooftop patio was open Sunday, taking advantage of the nice weather, but that opportunity to dine outdoors will wane as October approaches.
The uncertainty is leaving restaurants and the people who work there anxious, Smith added.
Over at the Lockeroom on Cundles Road East, the first couple of days with the new requirement presented a couple wrinkles, but has otherwise been unremarkable, says owner Dana Parris.
Customers were understanding and most were prepared to show proof of vaccination.
“The only problems we had were online,” she said. “People don’t realize it took a lot for us to survive the past year and a half and we plan to keep surviving. But face-to-face, people have been very good.”
Her Facebook notice to remind people of the new regulation attracted some nasty comments from ill-wishers.
The Cundles Road restaurant has developed numbered VIP cards for its regular customers who have shown their identification and proof of vaccination.
“It’s our decision now to follow along with compliance because it’s gotten us through so far,” Parris said.
The latest requirement adds to the burden businesses have had to carry during the past 18 months, says Paul Markle, executive director of the Barrie Chamber of Commerce.
As with many of the pandemic-related rules, there has been some very vocal opposition to proof of vaccine on social media.
The rule has also come just as the weather has started to cool, so it remains to be seen whether any drop in business is related to the weather or the new rule, he added.
“It’s kind of unclear what the impact is going to be to the businesses,” he said. “I think the hope is… it’s a thorn in everyone’s side for the first few weeks, and then as everyone becomes accustomed to it, it becomes less of an issue.”
For businesses, the challenge is navigating it all while running the business through a difficult time.
“You can see where the stress comes from,” Markle said.
Markle is asking residents to be kind and patient to the businesses as they try to comply to the requirements while also trying to stay open and push ahead.
And exactly which businesses are required to ask for proof of vaccine isn’t always clear.
Ryan Smith, co-owner of the Escape Room, says he sought guidance from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. The answer he received is that it’s not necessary there, although he was told this could be subject to change in the future.
The business has two rooms where up to eight people try to solve clues and they are not run at the same time. That provides plenty of time for disinfecting between groups, he says. It also limits the number of people in the Ellen Street building.
“We’re getting the calls, people are asking,” he said. “It’s such a polarizing topic.
“We do everything within our financial means to protect the safety of our clients because they built this business."
Proof of vaccine is also not required at the Barrie Public Library, although the branches have been proven popular among those wanting to print their vaccine documents, which are required until a digital version is available next month.
The library is offering to help people print their proof, and many people have responded, says business and development director Chris Vanderkruys.
Staff will also help patrons navigate the system and print the material for free.