Some pandemic pivots are permanent for Manitoulin Island businesses

Lifting of capacity limits in Ontario does not mean an immediate ‘return to normal’ for some small businesses on Manitoulin Island

man and woman stand beside a sign that reads Main Street Express
Jean and Jamie Ward of Main Street Express in Kagawong, Ont., stick to the pivot they made at the beginning of the pandemic. They continue to serve customers at their drive-thru. Maureen Strickland/Kicker

Maureen Strickland

Capacity limits for restaurants, bars and gyms have been lifted in Ontario, but an immediate return “back to normal” is not in the cards for some Manitoulin Island businesses.

The Ontario government lifted capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars and gyms on Oct. 25 while maintaining masking and vaccine mandates.

 “My first thought was how many people can we get in here to feel safe,” said Jeff Graham of On the Rock Fitness Centre at the east end of Water Street in Little Current.

“If one case is associated with the gym, the other clients would be hesitant to come back,” said Graham.

Even though they can now have 22 people in the gym, they will only increase to twelve clients from eight with the lifting of limits.  

At the beginning of the pandemic, the gym pivoted to Zoom classes in high impact interval training and pilates. This change proved to be very successful, and the fitness centre now has clients all over Ontario.  It will continue to run zoom classes even when the pandemic eventually ends.

Man stands by excercise equipment
Jeff Graham of On the Rock Fitness Centre in Little Current keeps client numbers below what is possible with the lifting of capacity limits on gyms. Safety is his concern. Maureen Strickland/Kicker

Meanwhile, one block away at the other end of Water Street in Little Current sits the historic Anchor Inn Hotel, home to a restaurant and the only bar in town besides the Royal Canadian Legion. The bar will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Owner Denise Callaghan updated her patrons through the Anchor Inn Facebook page letting the community know that due to a long list of COVID-19 protocols they will not be opening the bar until more restrictions loosen.

Lifting of Limits has No Impact

Down the highway at the Main Street Café Express in Kagawong, owners Jamie and Jean Ward said the lifting of capacity limits would have no impact on their business.

At the outset of the pandemic, they turned their 14-seat café into a drive-thru. They adapted their menu and offerings to handheld lunch items, which patrons order and pick up from a window on the side of the former café.

“We made a permanent pivot, and from a business point of view the pivot has made our business more successful,” said Jamie.

Customers ask the Wards when they will re-open the inside café. The Wards say it is logistically problematic in such a small space. A familiar concern is that one COVID-19 case in their restaurant could end their business.

As Manitoulin Island businesses inch “back to normal,” safety remains a primary concern, and some pivots are permanent.

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