A year ago, downtown Barrie was experiencing a perfect storm as COVID shutdowns and extensive construction on the main street proved lethal to local businesses.
Fast forward to mid-2021 and the feeling is a lot more positive along Dunlop Street.
Friday marks the beginning of Step one in the province's three-step reopening plan. Among other things, the first step will allow for outdoor dining on restaurant patios.
That was already good news for local establishments, but combined with the Open Air Dunlop project and the possibility of council extending patio hours - a decision that is likley to come later today - many are feeling good about the summer.
Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery vice president of creative Andrea Chiodo told BarrieToday she could feel the buzz in the air downtown as Friday nears.
“The optimism is cresting here, you can feel it this morning just walking around downtown,” said Chiodo, who said all but one of their staff have been vaccinated. “The (COVID case) numbers are dropping, the sun is out, and we at Flying Monkeys ... see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Flying Monkeys will have their patio on Dunlop Street open and Chiodo said it's the perfect view for Open Air Dunlop, which sees the street closed to vehicle traffic.
“You can sit here and wave hello to everyone who will be out enjoying the day,” said Chiodo. “We’re even opening at 9 a.m. Friday for beers and breakfast. We’ll be doing a Czech-style pour called a Mliko which looks like a milky mug of foam. We’ll be having our morning Mlikos and breakfast sandwiches. We’re ready!”
Chiodo also praised the Barrie Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) for promoting the businesses through the pandemic and again with the Open Air Dunlop event, which runs for 15 Saturdays starting this weekend. Mulcaster Street to the Five Points will be open to pedestrians only during those times.
BIA executive director Kelly McKenna said she expects a busy weekend.
“I think people will be out this weekend in droves, if not to get out to a patio but to even just see other people,” said McKenna. “The sun is shining and all of the things we’ve been waiting for seem to be happening this weekend. We’ll have all the appropriate hand sanitizer around the area and hope those coming will bring a mask should they need it.”
McKenna called this Saturday a “mini-Promenade Days” with all the shops getting ready to have stands and patios outside; she believes the “feel will be that of a celebration.”
Colin Johnson is the general manager of Donaleighs Pub, The Dunlop Street Diner and North Country BBQ, all of which are lined up along Dunlop Street near the Five Points.
Johnson was hard at work Thursday getting ready for Friday's reopening.
“We’re really excited, we’ll have all the patios going and hoping for a safely packed weekend,” said Johnson. “Now, it's just putting the finishing touches on the little details.”
Johnson admits staffing has been a bit of an issue as some staff had committed to other jobs during the lockdown, but all three establishments will be ready.
“We’re not taking reservations for the first couple weeks at least, as we want to properly prepare without the worry of holding tables,” said Johnson. “It's first come first serve and we’re already hearing about people making plans to hit our patios.”
Non-essential retail stores have also gotten the green light to open to 15 percent capacity as of Friday. They had been open for "essential" items only for the past several weeks.
Blueberry Moon By The Bay is a shop featuring handmade products and clothing that opened their storefront in February.
Owner Heather Kennedy was hard at work Thursday sprucing up the outside of the store as she prepares to open her doors tomorrow.
“I’ve been open for maybe three or four weeks to the public, so this weekend is going to be a great thing, to see everyone and show our inside,” said Kennedy. “People have seen a lot of online stuff through our Instagram page, but as my clothing line Human Connection Junkie says, I am all about that connection to others. This weekend will be all about connecting and interacting with each other.”
The store, located at 84 Dunlop St. E. will be having an official grand opening on Saturday, June 19 but Kennedy “hopes to see as many people as possible this weekend.”
The fences at Meridian Place will also be coming down in advance of Friday's reopening, allowing the popular seating area to be opened.
Meridian Place has been closed since April 29 when Mayor Jeff Lehman issued an emergency order in response to ongoing gatherings that were happening in the space which went against provincial health regulations.