Restaurants and retail stores are among the businesses allowed to increase capacity after Manitoba’s third economic reopening phase began Sunday — but not all will be able to return full tilt just yet.
Stores and restaurants can now operate at 100 per cent of pre-COVID-19 capacity, but businesses still need to enforce physical distancing between patrons among other public health measures.
Increasing capacity is welcome news for Sachit Mehra, the third-generation owner of East India Company Restaurants, even if the York Avenue location can’t seat the 167 people it was able to prior to the pandemic.
“We’re very fortunate that all our locations are very spacious — they’re very big — so for us to be able to distance tables around the room is easy,” Mehra said Sunday afternoon while about a dozen patrons sat in the dining room. “You can be at 100 per cent inside the restaurant but if you’re spacing your tables out two metres then that means 50 per cent.”
Mehra estimated about 60 people will be able to sit with two-metres between tables.
Despite the ongoing challenges for the restaurant industry amid the pandemic, Mehra was chipper when welcoming patrons.
“We know many of them by their first name, they’ve been eating here for decades — just to be able to see them again face to face is really important to our family,” he said.
“To open up again and to go back to normal is absolutely critical for our business, we operate on having clients come in through the door, sitting down at our restaurants,” Mehra said of his business and restaurants at large.
Mehra is not overly-concerned about the fate of the well-known Winnipeg family business — “We are around on the graces of our customers and by being here for decades,” he said — but noted the industry itself is in dire straits.
“In the last two weeks alone, we’ve had at least 10 notable restaurant names here in Winnipeg and Manitoba announce closures or at least reduced capacity — that’s a warning signal I think for a lot of people inside the industry.”
Mehra pointed to potential official public messaging meant to reassure consumers that it’s reasonably safe to eat out and shop while still following basic public health measures to help the economy return to normal.
Meanwhile, Whodunit Books, a small independent book store on Lilac Street, does not yet plan to allow more people in its doors than it did when the second economic reopening phase began in May.
That means a maximum of eight people in the store at a time and no events for now, said bookseller Michael Bumsted.
“Just to keep everything in sort of a comfortable range for us,” he said.
The eight-person capacity has worked well and Bumsted said the book shop has seen a steady flow of long-time customers and new traffic.
“We have not had anybody yet who has sort of felt hard done by being asked to sanitize their hands or stay two metres away from everyone else or to wait a moment,” he said.
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