Personal care services, malls, outdoor fitness classes set for Step 2

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For those businesses able to reopen next week, Thursday’s announcement was welcome relief after three months of challenges and uncertainty.

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Ottawans will soon be able to get haircuts, have their nails done and return to shopping malls as Ontario moves to ease more pandemic restrictions next week.

The Ford government on Thursday announced that Ontario would move into Step 2 of its COVID-19 reopening plan on June 30, a few days earlier than the initial target date of July 2, which the province credited to declining case counts and rising vaccination numbers.

The percentage of Ontario adults who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine surpassed 76 per cent this week, while 29 per cent are fully vaccinated. The province originally stated it would only proceed to Step 2 when at least 70 per cent of Ontario adults had received one dose and 20 per cent had received both doses.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s seven-day average of new cases has fallen to 305, down from 443 a week ago.

Under Step 2, malls can reopen and personal-care services where masks remain on can resume, as can overnight kids camps and contact-less outdoor sports. Outdoor fitness classes no longer need to be restricted to 10 or fewer people, with the cap on outdoor gatherings now set at 25.

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For those businesses able to reopen come next week, Thursday’s announcement was welcome relief after three months of challenges and uncertainty.

“It’s been hard,” said Kim Nguyen, owner of Judy’s Nails on Montreal Road.

She survived on CERB funding and government rent subsidies as her only income comes from the salon.

“I’m just barely making it,” she said. “It’s actually been eating into my saving account because the rent subsidy doesn’t cover all the cost.”

Though Nguyen is excited to open again, it still comes with restrictions. She has seven employees and can accommodate 10 clients at a time, but will be limited to 25 per cent capacity. Nor does she know if all workers will return.

But her customers certainly are eager to book appointments.

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“I pick up every phone call,” Nguyen said.

Aida Mansour, co-owner of Tweezers on Carling Avenue, said her clients had also been calling.

“My phone hasn’t stopped. Everybody’s waiting anxiously. And we’re so glad that we’re going to be able to see them again. Everyone’s desperate,” Mansour said.

Mansour, who was interviewed by this paper a year ago after the first lockdown, said it was unfair that barbers and hair stylists had been shutdown for so long.

Tweezers scrupulously followed public health guidelines.

“The inspector who came here told us we were going overboard,” she said,

Tweezers, too, had help from government pandemic funding, which helped them weather the storm.

“But it’s not as easy as the government makes it sound. There’s a lot of paperwork and they calculate how much you’re going to get. I don’t know how they do it.”

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Mansour heard of some people getting haircuts in driveways or in underground locations during the shutdown. Others may have gone to Quebec, where barbers opened sooner.

All seven employees will be back on the job when restrictions lift.

“We’re like one big family here. We’re supposed to open for the same hours, but, if we have to extend the hours just to help the customers, we will. We’ll take it a day at a time.”

Business has been frustratingly slow for Ted Barkun’s Cozzy Coverings blinds store in Westgate Shopping Centre, which had to remain closed through the latest lockdown while its competitors — those that weren’t in shopping malls and had their own dedicated entrances — have enjoyed a two-week head start on reopening.

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“We’ve done maybe 25 per cent of what we had been doing week after week (earlier) in the pandemic,” Barkun said.

His family-run store has a very specific clientele, and this has been a traditionally hot time for his business, with soaring housing sales and spring renovations.

He had to turn customers away from his front door, only to see them take their business to direct competitors.

“This (time of year) would usually be very busy for us, and there’s nothing I can do,” Barkun said. “I have customers coming to the door and I can’t let them in, and they tell me, ‘I cannot wait.’

“I’m asking them to wait another week and they say, ‘I can’t wait a week with nothing on my windows.’

“People are doing their spring cleaning, a lot of people are moving, the housing market is booming, and we have to sit around watching them, twiddling our thumbs.”

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Ted Barkun, owner of Cozzy Coverings couldn’t open to in-person shopping under Step 1 because he doesn’t have an exterior door. Jean Levac/Postmedia
Ted Barkun, owner of Cozzy Coverings couldn’t open to in-person shopping under Step 1 because he doesn’t have an exterior door. Jean Levac/Postmedia Photo by Jean Levac /POSTMEDIA

With the province moving into Step 2, Pure Yoga Ottawa will start offering outdoor morning classes at three locations in the city as of July 3.

Co-owner Amber Stratton said yoga and strength-building fit classes would be held at 7:30 a.m. from Monday to Saturday, with the studio opting for early-morning classes to take advantage of cooler temperatures and allow more people to participate.

She said the studio’s move to outdoor classes came together quickly as the province abruptly announced the earlier than anticipated move to Stage 2, but the response from gymgoers was just as fast, with messages pouring in after the studio detailed its plan to return on Instagram.

“People are really excited; it’s been a very long year,” Stratton said.

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“The feedback I’m getting is that everyone is so excited to get off screens and back in person.”

Yoga classes will be held at Lion’s Park in Westboro (behind the Ottawa Gymnastics Centre), while fit classes will take place at the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill. The studio’s ritual classes — which it describes as a blend of yoga, high intensity cardio, plyometrics and deep meditation — will occur Wednesdays at Tavern on the Hill.

Only members and class card holders can take part in the outdoor classes, which Stratton stressed would take place with appropriate social distancing and in compliance with public health guidance.

Cancellations due to inclement weather will be posted on Pure Yoga’s Instagram page and distributed to those on the studio’s email list.

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“It’s going to be different but we’re really excited to bring our community back together because we’ve all been missing it so much,” Stratton said, adding that the 10-person cap on outdoor classes under Step 1 was “really hard and doesn’t work for any fitness business model.”

However, Everett Sloan, owner of Crossfit Bytown gym on Preston Street, said the relaxed restrictions of Step 2 wouldn’t help his business.

The gym has been running exercise classes for eight people outside in the small parking lot behind the building. There’s no space for more mats, he said. Other businesses use the lot, and he also doesn’t want to create nose that disturbs the neighbours in an apartment building nearby.

“We have to try to be respectful of the other businesses and our neighbours.”

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Everett Sloan, owner of CrossFit Bytowne, a gym on Preston Street, stands In the small parking lot behind his business that is used for fitness classes and workouts.
Everett Sloan, owner of CrossFit Bytowne, a gym on Preston Street, stands In the small parking lot behind his business that is used for fitness classes and workouts. Photo by Jacquie Miller /Postmedia

The pandemic restrictions have been devastating for his gym. The unpredictable, on-and-off shutdowns made it worse, Sloan said. Plus his previous landlord evicted him from his former location, so he had to find and renovate a new spot this spring.

Sloan said he had to take out a second mortgage on his house to keep the business afloat.

In the past 14 months, the gym has only been open for 57 days. How many members? “Before or after the pandemic?” he said. “We used to have 225, now we’re down to about 70.”

Sloan said he was frustrated by the ongoing restrictions on gyms, saying his business had followed every pandemic protocol from distancing to sanitizing. The move to Step 2 is no different, he said.

“You can have five people indoors for a social gathering, but you can’t have five people indoors working out, even wearing a mask?”

With files from Marco Vigliotti

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