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Excitement, caution as bars and restaurants set to reopen in Nova Scotia


HALIFAX — Businesses such as bars, restaurants and barber shops are poised to reopen Friday across Nova Scotia, after being closed for nearly three months because of COVID-19 restrictions.

It's a welcome development for many including Brendan Doherty, co-owner of the Old Triangle Irish Alehouse in Halifax.

"We're still here," Doherty said, chuckling, during an interview this week. "But it's been mentally trying if I'm being honest."

Doherty said his popular pub, which hopes to celebrate its 20th anniversary in November, is excited to get back in business after being closed since St. Patrick's Day.

However, he said that excitement is tempered by the realization that it won't be business as usual.

"We really want to try to figure out what the new normal looks like and get to it," Doherty said. "It's going to be a different experience eating out."

Under plans restaurants and bars must adhere to, Doherty said customers will notice right away that there isn't as much space to socialize as there used to be. The Old Triangle and most other bars and restaurants will be required to operate at 50 per cent of capacity.

Doherty said his pub won't have seating at the bar, and tables will be spaced two metres apart in keeping with distancing requirements.

Staff will wear masks and servers will wear a mask and gloves he said, while customers will be taken to their tables by a host stationed near the pub's only entrance.

Markings will also dictate physical distancing between tables and customers will be asked to use sanitizer or to wash their hands before eating.

Changes or not, Doherty expects there will be people to serve, although operating margins will be even tighter then they usually are. He said the Triangle is projecting business will be cut to about 30 per cent of previous revenues if all goes well.

"It's uncharted waters for us," he said. "We're fairly confident that at 30 per cent we can survive this."

Luc Erjavec, vice president Atlantic for the industry group Restaurants Canada, said there is a "big sense of trepidation" mixed with the excitement of welcoming back customers.

Many restaurants aren't quite sure how customers will react to the changes or even if they'll come back in the numbers required to keep many places afloat, Erjavec said. He said estimates show about 10 per cent of Canadian restaurants have already gone out of business due to COVID-19, and reopening will be a "work in progress."

"It will be different, but I just think it is so important to get this industry up and operating because it's an industry that employs someone in every single community," Erjavec said, noting

He said about 40,000 Nova Scotians are employed by the restaurant business.

Under the province's plan to gradually reopen sectors of the economy, hair salons and barber shops such as the one operated by Giovanna Zavarella will also offer a different experience for customers.

Zavarella's shop, located at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, has been an institution at the school and in the surrounding community since 1990. The business was first established by her father Luigi in 1968.

Zavarella said her father won't be returning to help out so she'll have to operate alone, handling each customer and the cleaning required after every haircut within 45-minute segments — 30 minutes for the cut and 15 minutes for the cleanup.

Haircuts will be by appointment only and there will be no in-shop waiting by customers, who will instead be contacted when it's their turn. Barbers will have to wear protective equipment such as glasses and masks while customers will also be required to wear a mask.

"We are not able to do facial hair at this time, so no beard trimmings, no eyebrows, nose hair or anything like that," Zavarella said.

She said many barbers, including herself, will likely raise prices to cover what amounts to a loss of daily business coupled with an increased overhead for things such as safety equipment and cleaning materials.

Still, Zavarella is buoyed by the fact she does have customers who want to come back, saying her phone has been "ringing off the hook" in recent days.

"I think I'll be ok," she said. "It's going to be tough, but I'll go fine, I'll manage."

Some health providers will also reopen Friday, including dentistry, optometry, chiropractic and physiotherapy services.

Stephen Richey, president of the Nova Scotia Physiotherapy Association, said patients will notice physical distancing measures in offices and the extra protective equipment used by clinicians.

Richey said because of the closeness often required to deliver treatments, there will have to be risk assessments and in some cases adjustments to what can be done. But for the most part treatments won't change, he said.

"We are well-educated and very competent in infection control so there's going to be ways that we can still provide the same quality of care," said Richey.

Meanwhile, dental offices who are ready to reopen will do so for urgent and emergency care only.

"It seems appropriate for a slow re-entry to get all of our guidelines in place and followed properly," said Dr. Joanne Thomas, president of the Nova Scotia Dental Association.

Routine care for things such as regular checkups is expected to begin after June 19, she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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