In a matter of days, the world has changed for many locals who found themselves in the process of shutting down their businesses Tuesday.
Premier Doug Ford’s morning announcement affected restaurants and wineries in town, which were doing their best to continue operations, stepping up cleaning practices and in some cases limiting the number of visitors at one time.
Just days before, on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the start of March break, Queen Street was busy with families visiting, and Corks Restaurant was experiencing a typical lunch hour.
One couple enjoying their meal had travelled from Whitby for a three-day break, staying at the Pillar and Post. They planned to visit some wineries and maybe the lavender farm while they were here, and were no more concerned about COVID-19 virus than if they had stayed home.
By Tuesday, there were three cases in Niagara, all travel-related, the number of cases across the province was escalating and businesses were being shut down to “help flatten the curve,” slowing the spread of the virus so that fewer people need to seek treatment at any given time.
On Sunday, Maria Mavridas and her father Bob Mavridis were optimistic. At that point there was no discussion of closing.
“I’m hoping it will be over sooner than we think,” says Maria. “We’ve had 9/11, we’ve had SARS. There’s always something, and we’re still here. But no question this is a wake-up call for all of us.”
The concern of some of the local restaurants, similar to residents, was toilet paper.
“Our supplier had lots, so we’ve got boxes, and we’re sharing with Backhouse, who has a different supplier who doesn’t have it.”
By Tuesday, rather than worrying about toilet paper, she was trying to figure out how to help their employees, who were going to work for two more days to help with the shutdown, their future uncertain after that.
“That’s what my father is worried about. We’ve got rent and mortgage payments to worry about, but he’s really concerned about the employees,” she said, as she drove to the Queen Street restaurant to begin the process of closing.
Whatever food they have left over, she planned to divvy up amongst the employees.
Her real frustration, she says, was with directives such as closing, and assurances there would be help for businesses and employees. But there has been no information, no clear avenue for accessing that help announced, no phone number or department to reach out to.
As late as Monday night, Paul and Matt Dietsch were preparing for one of their biggest, most successful annual events, St. Patrick’s Day.
Tuesday morning, they were shutting down the restaurant, talking to their staff, and planning to step up takeout, which has always been part of their business model.
They will provide takeout hours from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., says Paul, and for now, will offer their full menu, since they already have the supplies in — but like everything else these days, that could change.
Like Mavridis, he’s also trying to find information about how to get help for his employees.
On Queen Street Tuesday at lunchtime, the streets were empty.
“There is nobody out there,” says Mavridis. “Nobody.”