Cheer shines amid caution as city begins to reopen doors
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/05/2020 (827 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeggers embraced the new normal Monday, as Manitoba marked the first day of its slow march toward reopening its economy amid ongoing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Some snapshots from the city:
There were mask-covered smiles on the Exchange District patio of the King’s Head Pub at lunchtime.
Despite the below-seasonal temperature, a smattering of customers took advantage of the opportunity for some sit-down food-and-beverage service for the first time since the province’s novel coronavirus orders came down in March.
Restaurants have the go-ahead to open patios and walk-up service.
At the King’s Head, staff in masks and gloves served beer in single-use cups, popping in and out of the main doors to chat with one or two patrons at a time, spread between well-distanced tables.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” owner Christopher Graves said. “We’re very cautiously optimistic, there’s no doubt about that, we’re trying to make sure we’re doing it the safe way and the right way — but it’s pretty fun.”
Customers shared the excitement, glad to be out of their homes and supporting local restaurants again.
Winnipeg Beach residents Jan Mikawos and Mark Sealey usually frequent the Smitty’s at Grant Avenue and Pembina Highway in the summer. Since much of their hometown is still closed, the pair decided to make a trek into the city for wings, nachos and the chance to support a local favourite.
“It’s the first chance we can get to help support ’em, so we come out,” Sealey said.
“It’s nice to get out of the house, with all the social distancing it makes a person feel… almost paranoid,” said Mikawos. “It’s nice to be out here with everybody — and again keeping our distance.”
The Smitty’s location was alight with retro music hits and raucous laughter, as regulars gathered on the temporary patio, staying safe with contactless payment and health screenings for all staff returning to work.
For owner David Thompson, it was a joy to be back among the familiar faces.
“They’re glad to come support me and the staff that’s a big part of it,” he said. “They can sit outside anywhere probably, but it’s a support thing and we really appreciate it.”
Green space green light
John Quinn and his children — Wade, 4, Anni, 6, and Mazi, 8 — were the first to clamber around on the monkey bars and swings at Riverview Community Centre, after weeks of steering clear of public play structures.
The gates — locked for months — were swung open for them Monday afternoon.
“It was still chained up when we got here,” said Quinn. “I was expecting there to be more people out and nobody is. Everybody that’s walking down the street is giving second and third looks.”
Quinn, a teacher, said his children missed the adventure of the playground, after a long winter and the closure of schools and daycares in March. The park was quiet Monday, but Quinn suspects the busy days will come again.
“We desperately needed to go to the playground,” Quinn said as his children circled around the park, climbing rock structures and swinging from rope bridges. “You can see they’re just excited to touch things again.”
Elsewhere, in a quiet corner of Vimy Ridge Park, Judith Newsom took her two-year-old, Cora, out for a lunchtime picnic in the grass and the first playground romp of the season.
“My daughter has been looking forward to this day for a while,” Newsom said, adding they plan to work the playground back into their regular rotation soon.
“I think we’ll probably be frequenting them a few times a week.”
Dinosaur footprints marked six-foot increments on the floor of Osborne Street’s Game Knight, as the hobby store marked a hopeful — if nerve-racking — reopening to the public.
“It’s a combination of anxiety and excitement,” said general manager Ben Shantz.
“It’s really nice to have customers back in and have staff back on, too. We’ve managed to rehire the majority of our staff starting today, which is great, but there’s a lot of new policies and procedures in place, so it’s a bit different.”
Shantz said staff have been working out new systems to make sure the store is sanitized often, products are touched as little as possible before being sold, and balancing online and storefront operations.
“It’s a very different looking Game Knight now than it was in February.”
Despite the challenges of adapting to retail in a COVID-19-marked world, Shantz said it was worth it to see the store’s community able to walk through the doors again.
Staff were even gifted handmade masks from a regular customers, which they donned proudly behind plexiglass shields. Few customers milled about the stacks of puzzles and games, but Shantz said spirits were high as business began to trickle back in.
“It’s not been crazy busy by any means… but I’ve seen a number of our regulars, some familiar faces, and it’s been good,” he said.
Bryn and Haley Orvis had a very specific shopping list when they left home Monday morning.
“We need some shorts,” said Bryn, 13, while waiting in line outside of Urban Planet at CF Polo Park.
By noon on the first day of retail reopenings in Manitoba, the sisters had already visited two malls in search of summer apparel. Their first stop was lacklustre, because many stores were still closed. It was much the same story at Polo Park, where only 30 of 200 retailers were open.
“I thought the whole mall would be open, but I guess that was just high hopes,” said Haley, 17, adding the scant selection was better than nothing. “It’s just nice to shop for something other than groceries.”
The pair was among a crowd of about 400 shoppers — many wearing face masks — eager to get some retail therapy. Polo Park general manager Peter Havens was a bit stunned by the turnout.
“I knew there would be some people that would come out and look, but I’m surprised how busy it is already,” he said.
Polo Park has capped visitors at 1,500 for now, a significant drop from the centre’s usual capacity. Over the course of a typical day, the mall averages about 25,000 to 35,000 visitors.
Mall staff put in what Havens describes as a “Herculean effort” to prepare to reopen in just five days. Many were still hard at work Monday, cleaning escalator hand rails, offering hand sanitizer, and reminding shoppers to abide by the directional stickers fixed to the floors of the shopping centre.
Maureen Feaver’s cut-and-colour was more than just much-needed pampering, it was a chance to reclaim her routine and reflect on things she took for granted pre-pandemic.
“I’ve got to really appreciate what I do have, because when it’s gone, it’s an absolute eye-opener,” Feaver said, waiting for her colour to process under a plastic hair cap.
She’s been a client at Revolutions Hair Salon and Spa in CF Polo Park for years, and usually visits her stylist once every six weeks. This appointment, however, came with a few extra precautions.
A table was blocking the entrance to the salon, and only those with an appointment were allowed past the barrier. Inside, every second chair was vacant and everyone, clients and stylists alike, was wearing face masks.
“We thought it would just put everyone’s mind at ease,” said Revolutions part-owner Danny Santarsieri, his mask fogging up his glasses as he spoke.
Santarsieri was surprised and excited salons were included in the government’s first phase of reopening. The same can be said for clients who have been calling nonstop to make appointments.
“Everyone’s been at home and maybe their hair has been getting out of control,” he said. “You always feel better after a haircut.”
The shrill ringing of the phone cuts through the intentional serenity of the reception area at Academy Massage Therapy — and the phone has been ringing a lot since last Thursday.
“Within minutes of the (reopening) announcement, there were phone calls and emails pouring in,” said creative director Quinn Mackenzie. “People are really happy and excited to have a little bit of their pain alleviated.”
The business is only using seven of its 15 massage therapy rooms to meet capacity requirements outlined by the province, and therapists have a 30-minute window to clean and sanitize work areas between clients. There are nearly 50 massage therapists on staff at Academy Massage, but not all have returned to work yet.
Koorosh Saxton was “so stoked,” and a little teary-eyed, when he learned he could return to work.
“I feel so happy that I’m serving the community in this way,” the massage therapist said.
Saxton had four clients Monday and no qualms about putting his hands on other people during a global pandemic.
“Social distancing is an act of compassion to help others, but at the same time, we need human interaction and we need that human touch,” he said.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a climate reporter with a focus on environmental issues in Manitoba. Her position is part of a three-year partnership between the Winnipeg Free Press and The Narwhal, funded by the Winnipeg Foundation.