Staff at Kosy Korner in Haliburton are thrilled that inside dining is now open. /GRACE OBORNE Staff

Local entrepreneurs react to Ontario’s Step 3 reopening

By Mike Baker

“We’re just happy and excited to see smiling faces once again,” said Kate Butler, director of the Haliburton Highlands Museum, on Friday, July 16 on what was the local facility’s first day open in several months.

Life is starting to get a little more normal in the Highlands now that more COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the provincial government back in March are being lifted. With Friday ushering in Step 3 of Ontario’s roadmap to reopen, many local businesses are looking forward to the weeks and months ahead.

Among those most excited is Lynda Shadbolt, who runs Haliburton Yoga.

On Monday evening [July 19], for the first time in over six months, Shadbolt welcomed individuals inside her studio for an in-person class. While only four people were allowed inside due to capacity limits implemented by the province, just being surrounded by people again was a huge win for Shadbolt.

“Oh my goodness, I’m just so excited. The whole reason I got into teaching yoga in the first place was because I love the sense of community. And I love the quiet. I love the quiet sense of community where people are together and actually not talking,” Shadbolt said. “There’s this unspoken, energetic connection, and I just love that. You don’t get that when you’re alone, by yourself in an empty studio.”

Since Christmas, Shadbolt has been offering online classes via Zoom. While she’s grateful for the opportunity to continue her business in an online format, Lynda admits it can be a little draining running multiple classes from behind a screen.

With Step 3, all gyms, yoga studios and indoor fitness centres are allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity, which means Shadbolt intends to limit her online classes moving forward. She has stopped short, though of rolling out a full itinerary of in-person classes over the summer, instead committing only to her Monday evening classes, with any future classes dependent upon the weather.

“Generally, my plan for the summer is that I’ll run classes on days when it’s raining, or bad weather. It will be more of a pop-up kind of thing, where I’ll send an email out and first come, first served kind of deal,” Shadbolt said. “When we have weather like we’ve been having recently, people should be spending time outside.”

Shadbolt will return to her regular schedule of five classes per week in September.

Museums and galleries were a couple of other businesses allowed to reopen. Butler said there was a steady line of visitors at the Haliburton Highlands Museum on Friday.

“It was a busy day, for sure. We’re just absolutely delighted to be open again… It feels like a step on the road back to things being the way we want them to be,” Butler said. “We had several small groups through for tours [on Friday]. People are looking for things to do right now, and it was nice to be able to open our doors and welcome them inside.”

The museum has been closed since March. All that down time has given Butler the opportunity to map out her summer, and plan some exciting events for the community.

“For the first week or so, we’ll be doing the tours, which are self-guided so people can explore things on their own… But I’m certainly looking forward to the coming weeks. We’re hoping to do some pop-up programming in some of our outdoor spaces. Our farmstead buildings will be reopening in a couple of days,” Butler said. “And then also, coming up in the next week or so, we’ll be starting to post some details of some historical walking tours that we’re going to be offering around town.”

The museum, located at 66 Museum Rd. in Haliburton, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The restaurant industry is another to benefit from Step 3, with indoor dining once again permitted and no restrictions on the number of individuals who eat at one table.

McKeck’s Tap and Grill in Haliburton has been jam packed, both indoors and on the patio, pretty well since Friday afternoon.

“It’s been great. We definitely like to see some life back in the place, and seeing customers in the dining room,” said Aaron Walker, who owns McKeck’s alongside his wife, Melissa. “There’s been a great response. I’d say we’re pretty much as busy as we were in 2019. There’s definitely been a lot of pent up demand – this is a long time coming.”

Dominion Hotel Pub in Minden has been able to take advantage of their outdoor spaces thus far this summer, meaning the opening of indoor dining hasn’t had much of an impact on their business over the first couple of days.

One aspect that owner Shawn Chamberlin is excited about, however, is the removal of restrictions on group outings.

“That’s significant for us. As you know, the limit [under Step 2] was six people at a table, and I think that was ridiculous. We had so many people that would come in, say a couple and their three kids and then they’re bringing grandma and grandpa to celebrate a birthday. Well, unfortunately, we had to make grandma or grandpa sit at a table on their own because we couldn’t have more than six people in one place. It just didn’t make any sense at all,” Chamberlin said. “Now that they’ve eliminated that restriction, things are wonderful. That’s what’s exciting for us.”
At Maple Avenue Tap and Grill in Haliburton, owner Andy Oh said he was pleased to see things returning to normal, but reiterated he needed to find more staff before being able to completely reopen.

“Okay, so everything is great with the reopening, people have been waiting a long time for that, but still I’m having the same old problem, and that’s [having] no staff,” Oh told the Echo. “People are happy and smiling because [the restrictions] lifted, but I can’t smile because there’s no one to hire right now.”

Oh said he has had to reduce his hours, with Maple Avenue only open five days per week rather than the seven days he’d like to be open. The restaurant has also had to scale back its breakfast service.

He’s hoping that now restrictions have been lifted on the restaurant industry, he’ll be able to find new staff.

“In the kitchen we are OK, but we need servers. All we ask is for people to have smart serve, I don’t even ask for experience,” Oh said. “With the restaurant being closed [for months], staff left. Now we’re open, I need new staff… This is a good step forward, to become a little more normal, but still there is a big, big issue, and that’s staffing.”