“It’s not just economic, it’s pure exhaustion,” says downtown BIA boss, as province applies ’emergency brake’

Establishments were banking on an early start to the patio season

For restaurant and bar owners in downtown Barrie, April Fool’s Day was no joke.

Thursday’s announcement by Premier Doug Ford that the province was going to Shutdown – using a new category in the provincial COVID-19 framework – was a train many saw coming, but that didn’t make the news any less painful.

“We spent this past week with our businesses on conference calls trying to get the patios up and running for April 1,” said Kelly McKenna, Downtown Barrie Business Association (BIA) executive director.

Last month, Barrie city council approved an early start to patio dining, about two weeks ahead of schedule, ending on Nov. 30. This applied to the Patios Everywhere Program and the Downtown BIA Patio Program.

“The announcement just totally turns you a 1-80,” said McKenna.

Establishments have had to ride out not just provincially ordered closures affecting indoor and outdoor dining, but local fluctuations from the red zone to grey zone and back, and then there was the Dunlop Streetscape project last year and its assortment of road closures.

“It’s not just economic,” laments McKenna. “It’s pure exhaustion at this stage.”

“I hope once the vaccines start to roll out and some of these promises start coming true, we can remerge as a community again and be safer against COVID. I just can’t wait for that day to come.”

McKenna doesn’t have to ask business operators anymore if they are hurting.

“You can see it on people’s faces and you hear it in their voices.”

She said restaurants and bars are hiring, firing, filling their fridges and then trying to get rid of stock in a 24-hour turnaround.

“People aren’t used to running businesses like that,” said McKenna.

The 28-day shutdown means restaurants and bars are limited to takeout and delivery. McKenna is hopeful that if numbers begin to trend in the right direction there might be an opportunity to reopen the patios.

McKenna said the Locallicious Food Festival beginning Apr. 9 will be a great way to support area restaurants. She said a partnership between the BIA, Tourism Barrie and the City of Barrie means they have been able to equip all of the participants with free takeout containers and personal protective equipment. Each restaurant and their featured menu, which range in price from $15-30 per person, can be found here.

“The sense of community downtown is enormous,” added McKenna. “It’s a real community down here.”