Chris Woronchak has been dealing with a difficult situation, as he waited and hoped some level of government would approve mandatory face covering legislation.
When the Province left the issue up to municipalities, and the Region deferred a decision, the general manager of the Gateway Travel Centre pinned his hopes on the Town to help enforce what he was already asking his patrons.
Since June 17, Woronchak, has had a sign on the front entrance to the travel centre declaring masks mandatory. On Friday, he posted a sign notifying customers of the bylaw approved by council, although he has been manning the door and telling people it doesn’t go into effect until July 23.
He says about 60 per cent of the people entering the travel centre are already wearing a mask, and when he asks those who are not to cover their faces, the majority of them do.
All told, he estimates about 90 per cent of those entering the Gateway are now wearing some sort of protective covering.
He has not refused anyone entry to the centre, but he says he felt it necessary to stress the urgency of people wearing a face covering.
“When we ask people, the response we get is more good than bad,” he says.
The comments he hears most often from those who refuse, are that it’s ‘too little too late, we should have done this months ago.’ “I tell them that was out of my control. We’re doing what we can now.”
Once the seating area of the centre opens now that Niagara is included in Stage 3, patrons will be expected to have a mask on when they arrive, and order their food. The mask will also be required when they leave their table.
The centre attracts truck drivers who stop to refuel, use the washrooms and pick up food, often on their way back from the U.S., he says, “and we have no idea what states they have visited.”
He also has a large number of tourists from the Toronto area, either on their way to the Old Town or Niagara Falls, stop for a coffee and to use the washrooms.
And then there are the locals. They too pick up coffee or food, and use the grounds of the Gateway to meet with friends, sit under the trees in chairs they bring from home, or at the scattering of picnic tables, and watch the traffic go by.
A quick glance on a weekday morning indicates it is indeed a busy, popular place, and that concerns Woronchak, leading to his mask request for customers to reduce the risk for them and staff at the centre.
He has one food tenant who was unhappy with his decision in June, fearing it would mean a loss in business.
“I believe the complete opposite, that if all of our customers were wearing a face mask, more customers would visit our establishment.” If they feel safe and secure, they would be more likely to revisit, he says, “knowing we are taking all precautions to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Having a municipal bylaw backing him was already helping over the weekend, he says, and once it comes into effect this week, he will turn people away who are not covering their faces. And he will call a bylaw officer, although he realizes the customers will likely be gone before one arrives.
The business now has the added cost of stationing staff members at the two entrances to the centre, “but we’ll do that. We’ll pay the cost. If this is what we have to do, so be it. Protecting people’s health is well worth it.”
He is hopeful the Region will also approve legislation making face coverings mandatory.
“We still have people coming from other cities, other areas of the region, where it isn’t mandatory. It would reduce the risk even further if it was a regional bylaw.”
He is especially concerned about what will happen when the Province allows the reopening of the borders. “We better have something in place by then,” he says.
Woronchak doesn’t understand why Niagara Falls mayor Jim Diodati continues to speak out against a bylaw for his city.
“Niagara Falls is the one with the most visitors, and if they won’t pass it, it makes it harder for us. It puts us at risk. We’re doing what we need to do to control this virus, while others are ignoring it.”