The province’s reopening plan lagged the return of summer weather, but restaurants were nonetheless happy to welcome patrons back to their patios last weekend, a small step on the path to normality.
“It’s about time,” said Elya Strawbridge as she enjoyed a drink in St. Jacobs alongside her husband Luc and their three dogs. “I understand all the restrictions, but it’s nice to be back. Nice to feel a little sense of normalcy.”
It wasn’t just the customers feeling relieved, as the lockdowns have been devastating for restaurant and bar owners in this area and across the province.
“It’s sad to see all these restaurants that had to close,” said Rob Brown, general manager of The Village Biergarten. “We may have had to do the same thing if it weren’t for our brewery.”
Brown alongside his partners at the Village Biergarten have had to adapt and innovate in order to survive the lockdowns. Relying on their Block Three Brewing Company, Brown was able to support their restaurant through takeout drink and food sales.
“We had takeout options during the lockdown – to be completely honest, our bread and butter came from our brewery,” explained Brown. “So we were doing takeout beers, takeout wine, takeout food. So that helped for sure.”
As businesses in the village of St. Jacobs pull back their shutters after coming out of yet another lockdown, they take notice of new faces in their community.
“What I do see today, and the last few days, is a bunch of new businesses,” said Edward Denyer, chair of the St. Jacobs Business Improvement Area (BIA). “It’s exciting because I think we have five or six new businesses that are just launching now. So they’re eager to be part of the community, they’re eager to be part of our association, and they’re eager to engage with the public.”
But while the lockdown sure hasn’t helped struggling businesses, Denyer explains the blame of stores having to close down can’t all be attributed to the pandemic.
“I think what we’ve seen across the board with COVID, is that it was like a giant Band-Aid that got ripped off,” he said. “And whatever was festering below got exposed. If the business wasn’t on solid ground and was unable to pivot, in many cases it was the last kind of push to push them off the edge.”
For patios opening last weekend, the dust and cobwebs had to be shaken off of more than their umbrellas and tables. Servers had to get back into the groove after a long bout of downtime.
“The patrons have been super accommodating in terms of [us] shaking off the rust, because my servers haven’t worked for almost a year,” said Brown.
But to hear it from Luc Strawbridge, the staff haven’t missed a beat.
“The staff is what makes it,” he said. “You can get a drink anywhere, but here they’re spectacular.”
With more patios opening up, like the public space on Mill Street in Elmira, those in the community wishing to take advantage of the fine summer weather have an abundance of options when compared to just a year ago.