Mary Urquhart sits behind the counter of her downtown intimates shop Tuesday afternoon, with gloves and a face mask on.
Another business owner passes by quickly, with his lunch in hand. He stops briefly to smile and wave at Urquhart and her eyes twinkle. It’s been more than two months since she’s been in the shop, and it’s a friendly face in a familiar place.
Tuesday was her first day back open, as owner of Mary’s on Wellington. She closed on March 13 for the protection of her and her staff, and her customers when COVID-19 arrived in B.C.
“I thought it was going to be a few weeks,” she says. “Then it was another two.”
Like others in the downtown area, she has posted her shop’s rules on the door for her customers to read before they enter. No more than four people are allowed in the store at one time. She has blue plastic gloves, requires shoppers to bring their mask, and provides hand sanitizer and a garbage can for discarded gloves.
And she also has to keep her distance of the standard six-foot rule, which is difficult considering the closeness required for bra fittings. But Urquhart has a knack for sizing up her customers, and is comfortable helping them out still.
The distancing rules are limiting for other businesses, too. At Payton and Buckle, sales staff isn’t able to check foot sizes or shoe fits. But they are able to provide support and service to their customers while distancing, says owner John Laanstra.
Tuesday was also opening day for them, after a full two months of closure.
“We’re excited to be here again,” he says, and they spent at least some of the time renovating the store, including fresh new carpeting.
Across Wellington Avenue, A Bridge to Better Living is being run by board members who are volunteering their time.
“We had to do something,” says board member Joyce Tetrau. The small non-profit opened last week, and had also been selling things online via their Facebook page.
Like others, they are happy to be open even if it’s just a slow trickle of brave customers coming through the door. Tetrau notes that it’s important for customers at all stores to respect social distancing at all times. Stores are also asking customers to touch as little as possible in the store to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19.
Every shop owner is facing their own challenges with the closures, re-openings and new guidelines. At Chilliwax Records, owners Paula and Joe Thompson spent their time getting familiar with their store and inventory. They just purchased the shop on March 1, and were forced to close thier doors a short 15 days later.
Not every store, restaurant or service provider was opened on Tuesday afternoon, which marked the second phase of re-opening in B.C. There are still shops that are working on plans to re-open safely. Michael’s on Main, for example, will open on June 1 and as a hair salon will be working carefully to maintain as much safe distance as possible while working with clients.
Other places never really closed, but adapted the best ways possible in the face of the pandemic. The Book Man, for example, set up a unique pay system through their window, accepting credit cards and tapable bank cards. No customers are allowed in the store, and owner Amber Price says she’s not ready to open the doors to the public just yet.
What all store owners who spoke with The Progress on Tuesday agreed on is that many people probably just aren’t ready to go shopping yet, either due to the dangers of COVID-19, or the lack of funds to spend.
Urquhart said when people are ready, they will be there for them.
“These are family-owned businesses,” she says. “If we were happy to see you before all of this happened, imagine how happy we will be to see you now.”
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