OPINION: Open patios now

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By Nick Seebruch
OPINION: Open patios now
Hassan Rafiei outside of Schnitzels European Flavours on Tuesday, May 25 (Nick Seebruch/ Seaway News).

Last week Doug Ford announced his plan to re-open the province after this latest COVID-19 lockdown. As the vaccination rate increases the end of the pandemic is truly in sight, but rather than Ford’s announcement being welcomed as good news, some Cornwall business owners are understandably frustrated.

Ford announced, as a treat for the May long weekend that golf courses, tennis courts and splashpads would be allowed to re-open, restaurants however, will have to wait until June 14, another four weeks.

No new supports were offered to this hard-hit sector of the economy by the provincial government.

I spoke with Hassan Rafiei, the owner of Schnitzels European Flavours who expressed his frustration. Hassan showed me his perspective, as a restaurant owner, on how difficult the past few months have been.

Not only has Schnitzels already lost 46 per cent of their revenue from 2020, but January to March are typically the slowest months of the year. The restaurant industry went from their slowest months of any year, straight into a months long lockdown where they could have no guests and were restricted to take-out only.

Even prior to the pandemic the profit margin for an average restaurant was razor thin. These businesses however, are crucial components to a healthy local economy and to the local culture.

Hassan argued on Twitter that downtown restaurants bring traffic to the downtown core and help bring customers to all businesses.

This key industry is suffering from the seemingly arbitrary provincial re-opening plan. Splashpads were allowed to open this weekend, but restaurant patios were not? That doesn’t seem consistent to me. To me it seems like a political consideration aimed at keeping parents happy while punishing restaurants. The fact that there were no offers of support to restaurants after this announcement I think just adds insult to injury. They went from the slowest months of the year, to a months long lockdown with their income lowered to a trickle and they have been left out in stormy seas by the Ford government with no lifeline.

Hassan has asked the City of Cornwall to consider closing down Pitt St. from First to Second on weekends during the summer. When restaurants are finally allowed to have guests return to sit down dining on June 14, this would allow them to have a greater number of tables and more guests and get more of that desperately needed revenue.

Major cities like Toronto and New York City have already experimented with opening streets to pedestrians and closing them to cars. The area around Young and Bloor streets in Toronto have been open to pedestrians on select dates during the summer since 2014 and Open Streets TO, which coordinates the program, boasts to bringing 120,000 walking guests in 2018 and 2019 to these streets that normally see heavy vehicle traffic.

If the province will do nothing to support small businesses like restaurants then that responsibility falls to local governments. It will be local economies and local cultures that will suffer if these businesses go under. The City should consult with restaurants, and other downtown businesses and stakeholders to find more ways to support them as they recover.

What do you think readers? What should be done to support local restaurants? Email your Letters to the Editor to nseebruch@seawaynews.media

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