If there is one thing that we all have in common these days, it's that we all have been impacted to some degree, largely in a negative way, by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some have experienced far greater impacts than others. Some have seen their jobs disappear, others have felt the financial blow to their businesses after months of shutdowns, reopenings, and social distancing requirements that can make running a business a challenge.
Those who have had the good fortune to remain employed throughout this ordeal haven't fully escaped the real impact of the pandemic. Some are concerned about the safety of returning their children to school, while others are frustrated with having to wear face coverings in order to enter businesses.
Throughout this year of COVID-19 we've all experienced upset in our lives to varying degrees, but one thing none of us has been able to escape is uncertainty. When will all of this end? Will it ever end? Will life ever feel normal again?
It is perhaps not surprising that, given the conditions that we have all been living with and through over the past five months, frustrations can boil over, and even traditionally calm, rational folks can lash out in anger. I think that is at least in part what we have seen transpire with the frustrations recently expressed by some downtown business owners when it comes to restaurant patios.
Many of us have been in survival mode for months now, hoping our businesses will live beyond the pandemic. There is no silver bullet that will solve all of the issues for everyone, and given that this is an entirely new and unprecedented experience for all of us, we don't have detailed blueprints to guide us through.
As I wrote in our July 16 print paper (The 3Rs...Rants, Raves & Rumours), among the hardest hit during this pandemic have been restaurants, bars, and theatres. Anywhere that relies on people gathering in large numbers and in close proximity to each other have seen their businesses decimated. Recognizing this, the municipality worked with our local restaurants to help speed up a process to accommodate patios in our downtown core that would allow those restaurants to serve customers, if only at a fraction of their typical capacity.
I wrote in that column that I, like many others, was impressed with the speed with which this municipality engaged the restaurant owners and worked to accommodate patios on the main street. This is a community that lacks any real industry, and we rely heavily on our agriculture and tourism sectors to keep our local economy moving, and so doing anything possible to help our local restaurants revive themselves makes sense.
With any solutions for one sector, there are bound to be impacts on others.
Last week we published a story about the frustrations expressed by one downtown business, and this week we've received a letter to the editor from another. In the wake of last week's article we saw significant discussion on social media with most expressing support for the restaurants, and suggesting that the business owner in question was simply 'whining'.
I don't think it can be that simple. To be clear, I have been, and still am in full support of the patios, I think they were badly needed, and all involved were doing their best to make the most of a bad situation. As much as I support the patios on the main street, I don't think we should scoff at real concerns expressed by those who have been, at least from their perspective, negatively impacted by the patios. Instead, I think we should be listening and learning.
The owner of Harbour Microtrends, a computer shop located on Sykes Street, expressed frustration about what he characterized as a 'fortress' that had been erected outside his business, and he suggested that the patios have caused a loss of visibility for his business, not to mention the parking spots that are no longer available for his customers.
Real concerns, voiced by a member of our local business community. I can understand those concerns, though I think they could in part be easily addressed. When I parked on the opposite side of Sykes Street and looked at the situation, my first observation was that it wasn't the restaurant patios that were depriving the business of visibility, but rather that the hanging flower baskets outside of the business were completely blocking the business sign. A simple thing, seen through unemotional eyes detached from the situation. If I were that business owner, given the new reality, I would request that the municipality remove those hanging baskets.
While removing the hanging baskets might help with visibility, we can't escape the reality that the parking spots that have traditionally been available outside that business are no longer available. Some have suggested that people can park elsewhere, and it's not really a concern, but if you are a senior wanting to drop off your computer for repairs, it can be a long journey from across the street while lugging a computer. For that issue, there is no easy fix, but I think if we really listened to what the business owner said in the article last week, when he is quoted as saying, “Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of promoting business even if it means taking up half of my frontage,” I think that the temporary loss of parking is understood as a necessity given the circumstances. But when we are frustrated, we humans can quickly whip up a laundry list of grievances many of which wouldn't be issues at all if not for the original source of frustration.
We are all new to this whole pandemic thing, and we all have had to make changes in our lives, and even if we support the need for those changes, we don't need to be happy about it, we don't need to pretend that we are on board with every decision made. Even in the midst of a pandemic, we are all entitled to express our opinions and to share our challenges – how else can we learn from this experience?