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“Open for Business” -- Part 4 of Zooming the Pandemic
Zooming the Pandemic writer Deni Loubert continues to look at how the pandemic is affecting the local citizens of New Westminster. In this episode she considers the recent decision by local health authority Dr. Bonnie Henry to reopen business in British Columbia at the end of May.
Beginning with a montage of businesses from the 1800s to present day, the series sets the tone to interview local business. Considering the impact of quiet streets and closed businesses, the question becomes whether both owners and customers are ready to reopen at this time.
With the announcement of the closing of a local 100-year retail business, Army & Navy Store, it is obvious that there are prices to pay for staying closed. But the sight of boarded up stores in downtown Vancouver also points out that in New Westminster, at the least, things feel a bit closer to normal even when the downtown is closed. The other side of that coin is the question of whether anyone will feel safe venturing out when restaurants and other small local businesses do begin to open. This is explored with a trio of interviews with three small business owners in the first week or so of reopening in British Columbia. Each of them has responded to the pandemic in a different way, and have different sets of considerations for when and how to reopen.
The first interview is with Marnelli Jimenez, a young owner of the local optical store, selling contact lenses and eye glasses. She explains that she and her partner, and little baby, are completely supported by the business, so getting help from the government as well as a break on the rent from a supportive landlord made a huge difference for them. Although they stayed open to clients, they let them know that their doors were open primarily to customers with immediate needs and to take deliveries. In their first week of opening up to the general public, Marnelli explains that business is still very quiet, with customers only coming in with an appointment. But she loves the local support in New Westminster and is optimistic that they will remain open.
The next interview is with restauranteur Teg Brar, owner of the popular eatery Thai NewWest. He explains his background of 20 years in the hospitality industry and why he and his wife (the chef for the restaurant) consider Thai NewWest their dream business that fulfills their passion to serve and share their love of good healthy food. Teg talks about his decision to completely close down the restaurant for the last two months, both to keep his family and staff safe and to maintain the safety of his customers. Now that they have reopened their doors, they are finding huge support from the locals who have always made takeout a big part of their business. He concludes with a call for everyone in the industry to be open to change – something the hospitality industry has always struggled with in his opinion.
The final interview is with local day spa owner Clara Kovats. After quite a few years as a freelance aesthetician, she founded Urban Bliss Spa in the back of local landmark, Cadeaux. When they closed, she then moved it to its current location a few years back. While running a day spa that offers dozens of options from massage to eyebrow and skin care is always a handful, keeping it clean is a big part of the daily routine. With the reopening of the spa after a two-month complete closure mandated by the province, the cleaning routines are simply more intense. She walks us through the new additional protocols she has done in her spa, including deep cleanings and weekly total spray downs to create surfaces that are distinctly unfriendly to viruses of any kind. She ends with a hope that we will learn to be kinder and more open to each other as we come out of this shutdown and begin to reach out to each other for help and support.
The episode concludes with a look at the neighborhood and how it is adapting to the new reality. Weather you are heading uptown for a coffee and donut with a friend at a local Timmies or walking the iconic waterfront – New Westminster is beginning to open up. Bike shops like CAPS are doing a booming business as families look for ways to get out and enjoy the coming summer weather while social distancing. Restaurants are finding ways to expand their patios to welcome their customers back, with new floor plans that allow for spaces between tables.
But some local businesses may not be returning. We are reminded that the pandemic is far from over. We still have a long way to go, even if we begin to feel like we are returning a bit more to normal. So, while a return to your favorite eatery may feel a bit different, for many of us it feels like a return to home. So spread this joy around to your favorite local business, and remember to be kind and stay safe. We will all get through this together.
NewWest.tv has been providing community television services to the city of New Westminster BC since 2012. NewWest.tv provides video training for the many volunteers who participate in video productions. Please see our website for contact info and more information about us.