Coronavirus: Lots of uncertainty as downtown Kelowna, B.C. businesses look to reopen

Reopening Kelowna’s downtown won’t be like flipping a switch.

Like elsewhere in the province, many shops and services in the city’s core have been closed or curtailed for roughly two months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now as the province eyes the reopening of retail and hair salons “under enhanced protocols” starting in mid-May, businesses in Kelowna’s downtown are expected to reopen slowly over the coming weeks.

“I highly doubt every store is going to be reopen on Tuesday,” said Mark Burley, the executive director of the Downtown Kelowna Association.

“I think you will see it happening gradually as people are adapting to the new reality. Plus getting personal protection equipment isn’t the easiest thing to do these days. Even hand sanitizer is tough to get.”

Getting that hand sanitizer may be key as the province has said it should be provided at the entrance to retail outlets and workplaces.

However, Burley said many downtown businesses feel they need more information on how to reopen.

Some businesses confirmed they are still in the midst of figuring out how to restart safely.

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The owner of Cadence Shoes on Bernard Ave. said the store hasn’t yet set a reopening date but could resume in-store sales as early as this weekend with limited hours.

Owner Sean Mullen said he know some store practices will need to change, including disinfecting shoes that have been tried on and not purchased.

However, he’s still unclear on exactly how he will need to adapt his business to allow for the safe operations during the pandemic.

That uncertainty is a major reason why he has yet to set a specific reopening date.

“We want to make sure when we reopen we’re safe about it,” Mullen said.

“That’s kind of why we are not quite there yet, but we are definitely working on getting there.”

Down the street at Mosaic Books they are currently open for curbside pickup and considering opening for limited hours next week.

However, the bookstore is also still trying to figure out the details of resuming in-person shopping and getting returning staff trained on new processes.

“There is nothing that is 100 per cent clear,” Mosaic general manager Alicia Neill said.

“(What) we hear is ‘Oh, this could help but you don’t have to do it.’ That’s where it is really difficult as a business to say what’s the safest method?”

Some changes have already been worked out. The store is planning to rearrange furniture, adding tables in front of checkouts, to create distance between staff and customers.

They also plan to have staff don gloves.

When businesses do open, the big question will be whether customers will return.

Burley said it has been a long two months for downtown businesses and “a lot of people have been hit very hard.”

“I just hope people will remember we’ve got really wide sidewalks in downtown Kelowna, physical distancing is easy,” Burley said.

“Just come on downtown and see who is opening or reach out to your favourite store and see what their plans are.”

While many non-essential businesses in B.C., including retail, were never forced to close as long as they could follow public health orders and advice, many choose to.

The provinces restart plan lists retail as among the sectors the province envisions opening during phase 2 which starts in mid-May.

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