N.B. businesses begin to emerge from COVID-19 hibernation

On a snowy spring Saturday afternoon in downtown Fredericton, there are some signs of life from businesses that have been closed since the middle of March.

Non-essential businesses were permitted to reopen on Friday as part of the next phase in New Brunswick’s reopening plan.

Shopping now will be different in some ways than it was before the pandemic.

“We’re open now, today is our first day,” said Janet North, owner of Westminster Books.

Her store is quiet but the phone is busy, and she’s telling her customers they’ve reopened.

North and her staff were surprised to be able to open right away, but she was ready to embrace the new normal.

Janet North said that customers at Westminster Books are happy to be able to browse inside a bookstore again. (Gary Moore/CBC)

As of Sunday, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick remains at 120.

Only two cases in the province are active, and none are in hospital. So far, 118 people have recovered from the virus and 17,772 tests have been conducted.

“We had been gearing up for it with the masks, the rubber gloves and sanitizers,” North said. 

Like other businesses reopening, Westminster Books has new procedures in place to allow for physical distancing. 

Customers are required to read a notice on the door listing symptoms of the virus before entering the store. Anyone who’s sick or showing signs of COVID-19 are not permitted to enter.

Once inside, customers are asked to either wear gloves or use hand sanitizer. Both are provided.

“We cleaned everything, and we clean everything as people come and go — the counter and the handrail outside.”

Bookstore browsing

Bookworms will have to browse the shelves by following green arrows on the floor. 

Jacques Paynter, a customer wearing a facemask inside the store, said he doesn’t mind the new restrictions. He said he’s happy to be inside the store again.

“I’m a big reader, so it’s kinda fun to be able to actually go into the store and find something,” he said. 

Mike Babineau is one of the owners of Rustico in Fredericton. He said the restaurant will be only be able to operate at 50 per cent capacity to follow physical distancing guidelines. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Around the block is Rustico, a restaurant and microbrewery. Staff were cleaning glasses and marking off sections to allow the public to enjoy a meal while keeping a safe distance. 

Saturday was the first day since the state of emergency came into effect that restaurants were allowed to welcome guests inside their doors. 

Co-owner Mike Babineau admits the government’s decision to reopen restaurants came as a surprise.

“I was happy that we were finally able to get open,” Babineau said. “I was a little disappointed that they didn’t give us a specific date to open to give us a day or two to at least get our food orders in.”

Chairs at the bar are spaced to follow physical distancing. Some tables in the restaurant are closed.

Babineau said the restaurant will only be able to operate at 50 per cent capacity, and the business will be lucky to break even this year. 

“Our fixed costs are still all the same, and we also have to put on additional staff to abide by these new rules and regulations that are in place.”

Some tables at Rustico are closed to allow enough space for physical distancing. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Babineau has three additional staff members and other additional expenses, such as sanitizer, to help meet public health guidelines.  

“We’re in this for the long haul,” he said. “It’s sorta like the market, you know. You kinda just go with flows. Some years you make money, some years you don’t.”

Staff will wear masks. It is not a requirement for customers.

Babineau said he is checking with customers coming into the restaurant to ensure groups are part of the same two-family bubble. If not, they won’t be admitted.

“If we’re forced to follow the guidelines, we really hope that they are as well — and I’m sure most of the customers that are gonna come out in the next few days, they’re going to adhere to it as well.”

 

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