Toronto businesses are cautiously optimistic about the lifting of COVID-19 capacity limits on Monday, saying they hope the easing of public health rules will improve their bottom lines.
But as they get ready to open their venues fully, they say they need time to determine the impact of the change and see whether people will return along with profits.
George Bozikis, co-owner of Hendriks Restaurant and Bar in downtown Toronto, said that it has been difficult to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic, although having no capacity limits is an improvement. But it still may not be business as usual, he added.
"Just because we're able to open a bigger part of the restaurant doesn't mean we're going to fill a bigger part of the restaurant again. Office towers are operating at 10 to 15 percent. Theaters in this area are closed. Tourism is non-existent. Offices are slowly coming back, but definitely not quick enough," Bozikis told CBC Toronto.
"Our margins are always very, very tight with supply chain disruptions, employee disruptions, not having enough staff on hand. It's the perfect storm and we're trying to weather through it, and only time will tell what really transpired through all this."
Hendrik's Restaurant and Bar sits 280 people. It has had to operate at 50 per cent capacity, which means seating only 140 people. On top of that, it has had to pay for extra staff to check vaccine certificates.
Starting on Monday at 12:01 a.m., the Ontario government will lift capacity limits in a majority of settings where patrons must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
These settings include: restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments; indoor areas of sports and recreational facilities such as gyms and where personal physical fitness trainers provide instruction; casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments; indoor meeting and event spaces.
Colleen Brophy, owner of Oxygen Yoga and Fitness Liberty Village, which opened in 2019, said she took over the business in September 2020, did a renovation and has been operating the business at half capacity. That means having 15 people six feet apart in classes, with 30 people on the wait list. The business needs 12 people in the studio to break even. Brophy, however, is trying to stay positive.
"Hopefully, once we get those capacity limits lifted, we can increase those margins and have a successful business," she said.
"I think it's absolutely time to lift the restrictions on gyms and other small businesses that have been suffering through the COVID pandemic."
Jennifer McChesney, director of operations at Studio Lagree and Studio Spin, said business isn't necessarily going to change overnight simply because capacity limited are lifted. The pandemic has been the most challenging time for the business, she said.
"The last two years was a roller coaster, not knowing when we would ever be able to open and when we did: What would be the restrictions be? How would that affect us? Would it even be worth opening with restrictions? It was a big balancing act, but for us, I think for the safety piece was the biggest component," she said.
Friday's announcement about the lifting of capacity limits for recreational facilities was unexpected, she said.
"We were surprised at first just because it felt like that day would never come and we were just adjusting to our new normal. But obviously, like most businesses that have been affected in this way, we were really excited and happy to get back to some base of normal."
Studio Spin, however, will continue to operate at less than full capacity, McChesney said. Currently, it has 20 bicycles but it will add only five to eight more. Before the pandemic, it had 40 bicycles.
"We know we have to make money to get back on our feet, but we want to make sure that people feel safe in our space," she said. "We want to run, but we have to walk first."
The government will allow other settings to lift capacity limits and physical distancing requirements on Monday if they decide to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination. These settings include personal care services, such as barber shops, salons and tattoo parlours.
Alexandra Tocci, owner of Salon Tocci in Liberty Village, said the business has chosen to maintain its current capacity. It has a large space and she said she doesn't feel comfortable asking patrons for vaccine certificates.
"I was hoping that we would be able to go to 100 per cent capacity without having to ask for a vaccination proof of vaccination because we do still wear masks," she said.
"We just want to welcome everyone. We want everyone to feel comfortable. And if that means maintaining our current capacity, then we're okay with that. We're just going to wait and see. It's kind of okay right now."