As the province proposes a further loosening of restrictions in the coming weeks, some local businesses have decided to batten down the hatches and stay closed regardless.
Sportex Fitness Centre manager Roger Regnier said he’s received constant calls and emails asking when the St. Boniface gym will reopen — but has no plans to open his doors anytime soon.
"We put some thought into when we were going to open or not; to me it was a no-brainer," he said. "High-touch areas, having to wear masks, you’re never going to be able to please everybody. And knowing you’ve got to wear your mask, for some people, is a deal-breaker."
The most recent proposed changes would allow gyms and fitness centres to provide group instruction or classes at 25 per cent capacity, and allow those working out to not wear a mask. Regardless, Regnier said, the additional staff that would have to be hired for a reduced clientele made reopening a tough call.
"Offering our service at 25 per cent — or 50 per cent — means there’s a lot of people who won’t be able to come, and opening for a certain population doesn’t quite equate to making everybody happy," he said.
Members have been split on the gym’s decision to remain closed, something he attributed to "cabin fever" settling in.
"Some are supportive and they understand why we’re not opening, and you’ve got the other percentage that are like, ‘You know what, why aren’t you opening, other gyms are opening,’" he said.
Sportex has the advantage of operating under the Université de Saint-Boniface, which handles many of the expenses a local gym might have to face on their own. Regnier said he’s sympathetic to many local gyms that have been left without a similar support system and have been forced to reopen in some capacity.
"We’re all in this storm together — some of us are in bigger boats, some of us are in canoes, some of us are with life-jackets, and some of us are drowning," he said.
On Osborne Street, The Toad in the Hole pub has opened off and on through the pandemic, but decided to keep its doors closed even after restaurants were able to open at 25 per cent capacity, and may stay closed even if capacity jumps to 50 per cent in early March.
The reasoning for keeping the doors closed was similar to Sportex — co-owner Kevin Monk said the decision to move the pub down the street into a building they had purchased in 2019 likely saved them from a worse fate.
"We own the building we moved into; we would’ve been out of business long ago if we didn’t move," he said. "It was, in retrospect, one of the most savvy decisions we ever made."
"That’s to say we’re still hemorrhaging money, same as everybody else," Monk added, noting the Toad had faced its own set of hardships in the past year — shutdowns had forced them to lose their entire inventory twice, and Monk is now dealing with the pipes that recently burst.
There’s no point in opening if the Toad can’t "operate as a pub," Monk said, and changing capacity rules doesn’t change the fact that the communal nature of pub socializing is lost.
"It doesn’t matter what the capacity is, it could be at 100 per cent capacity, but if you have to be six feet apart or go with your own household, it’s the exact same thing, there’s no difference to me," he said.
The additional responsibilities placed on staff under current public health orders further dissuaded him from reopening sooner.
"Now, at the pub, the security guard becomes a host and a contract tracer, and essentially a COVID-19 policeman," he said. "When people come into the pub, instead of having a fun time, they instantly get grilled like they’re going across the border."
Monk is hoping for a St. Patrick’s Day reopening — after the earliest possible change to public health orders on March 5 — but knows the day, typically one of the biggest of the year for drinking spots, won’t be the "saviour" it was in other years. Until then, he’s comfortable waiting it out.
"I’d rather do it right," he said. "I’d rather people didn’t come in and have a crappy experience."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.