It’s not back to business as usual, but many of the businesses in St. Jacobs are making a go of it under phase 3 of the province’s reopening plan.
Typically associated with tourism, the village is banking on the enticement of summery weather and a shop-local sentiment to help with its recovery.
Small businesses were hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 crisis. Many of the businesses that closed during the lockdown are now reopening, and there are renewed signs of life, says Edward Denyer, chair of the St. Jacobs Business Improvement Area (BIA).
Some of the group’s members remained open through the height of the pandemic, offering curbside pick-up and delivery option, whereas others were required to wait until phase 2 before they could get back to it.
The reopening is happening under strict guidelines, with many of the operations sporting a new look in greeting visitors who may not be the usual tourists.
“We have a connotation of tourists as someone from faraway that came here, made a huge voyage to make it. I think what we’re seeing mostly is what I would consider quasi-local. So, Elmira, Waterloo, Kitchener, sometimes Cambridge. But for the most part, these are communities that are within 10-15 minutes, where people have found that is a great place to kind of be outdoors, escape, walk us trails,” said Denyer of those making their way to the village.
St. Jacobs BIA board coordinator Carrie Briscoe adds “that there’s a big push for everyone to want to be supporting local.”
That push is particularly visible now that patios are reopened, with people visiting the likes of Block Three Brewing, the village Biergarten and the large tent between the Stone Crock and St. Jacobs Grill, an initiative by the Fat Sparrow group.
Though pleased to see the village coming alive again, the BIA is remaining cautiously optimistic, said Denyer, pointing to the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 cases.
“[There] is every concern in the world that this can happen or continue to happen based on what we’ve seen south of the border. Canadians have kept a level head in this pandemic, and have taken measures and taken precautions in a timely manner. And I think that if we continue to do so, it will be manageable. I think if we lose our heads and just decide everything should be open, we’re setting ourselves up for failure,” he said.
“If you look across the world, in other countries that have experienced already this whole phenomenon one time at least, you’ve got to be prepared for it to happen again. And until there’s some kind of vaccination solution, it could be a recurring thing in a cyclical manner, depending on flu strains or flu epidemic similarities.”
As part of its cautious approach, the BIA has cancelled all of its planned events for the remainder of the year, including the Christmastime St. Jacobs Sparkles.
“We’re still hoping to light up the town for the holiday season and make it look beautiful. But we’re also very aware and hesitant to create anything that would draw crowds because of the pandemic,” said Briscoe.
The BIA has partnered with Waterloo Region Small Business Centre to promote webinars that cover topics ranging from business promotion and marketing and social media. Leslie Kay, social media coordinator from the BIA, has been providing members with social media packages to help support communities during this period of uncertainty.
Briscoe encourages people to continue to come and support businesses within the village of St. Jacobs, “Everyone’s having this strong sense of community pride through this pandemic. I think that’s fantastic, because we do have a really great community within St. Jacobs, within Woolwich, and Waterloo Region – we’re very proud of, of where we’re located.”
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