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COVID capacity boost welcome for Nova Scotia retail, physical distancing remains a challenge

As COVID-19 public health measures ease in Nova Scotia, retailers no longer have a cap on how many people can enter their store as long as everyone is able to physically distance two metres from others.

Previously, retail businesses were limited to just 75 per cent of their capacity, but that restriction was lifted on Tuesday.

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“If you can allow an extra 25 per cent with safety still coming first, that’s good for business,” said Jim Cormier, director for Atlantic Canada at the Retail Council of Canada.

“For a small independent retailer that may only mean one extra person in the store but that’s one extra potential possibility for making a sale, so that’s good.”

For larger retailers, it will mean even more customers, which Cormier says is a good step forward to boosting the economy.

While retail stores have never been forced to close in Nova Scotia during the pandemic, capacity limits and consumer confidence have had an impact, especially on smaller businesses.

Not all retail businesses have been struggling. Those in home improvement and the building supply sector, along with grocery and sporting stores, have been doing well, but clothing stores and small independent businesses have suffered.

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“We just encourage people to continually understand that yes, online shopping is great, but please don’t forget those brick and mortar shops that are in your local communities,” said Cormier.

Another industry that’s been particularly hard hit is the restaurant industry.

Restaurants have been forced to close several times throughout the pandemic. They’re now open, but similar to retail, even with no capacity limits, physical distancing rules mean far fewer customers than usual.

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“It’s hard to operate with physical distancing requirements,” said Luc Erjavec with the Atlantic Canada chapter of Restaurants Canada.

“Because of that, we are probably in the 50-60 per cent capacity range.”

Despite challenges, Erjavec says restaurants aren’t complaining right now.

“Given the circumstances of what’s happening nationally and globally we’re one of the few jurisdictions that have low case counts and are open for business, we’re quite happy with the spot we’re in.”

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Both industries are also eager for April 19, when the Atlantic bubble is slated to open, which could bring in more people looking for dining and shopping options.

But even with optimism for the summer months and a prospect of at least some regional tourism, the pandemic isn’t over and businesses will continue to struggle.

So far government initiatives like the wage and rent subsidy programs have helped businesses keep afloat throughout the pandemic. Those are both set to expire on June 21, but there are calls for them to be extended.

“We need them to go past June,” said Erjavec.

“I think everyone agrees there will still be restrictions in place in June and hence our sales will be down and our profitability will be down.”

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