May 19, 2020 / 1:08 PM / 3 months ago

Retailers cautiously return as Ontario begins reopening

TORONTO (Reuters) - Select retailers and auto dealerships in Ontario opened their doors to a slow trickle of customers on Tuesday after two months of lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, with many stores choosing to remain closed.

FILE PHOTO: A view of Yonge and Dundas Square, as the number of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases continue to grow in Toronto, Ontario, Canada April 8, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/File Photo

Canada’s most-populous province and the country’s economic engine is reopening its economy in three stages, after first shutting down its economy in mid-March.

The province decided on Tuesday to reopen schools in September.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said last week that stores with a street entrance could reopen, but only by following strict social-distancing norms.

Retailers on Toronto’s normally bustling Queen Street West reported slower-than-normal foot traffic, with many stores staying closed.

Anastasia Abittan, whose family owns The Beadery, a jewelry repair shop in Toronto, said the family “didn’t have a choice” but to reopen. The landlord has been understanding about rent but expenses are piling up, she said.

Allowing retailers to reopen is the least the province can do, and most will do so, said Diane Brisebois, president of the Retail Council of Canada. But even after they open, supply chains and purchasing will still be disrupted.

“They may be able to open their front door, but they’ll have nothing to sell,” Brisebois said.

The retail and auto sector has been hard hit by the pandemic. An April survey from the Canadian Auto Dealership Association found that 87% of dealerships in Canada saw a revenue decline of over 30%.

Construction workers and employers “in large part” are looking forward to going back to work, said Patrick Dillon, secretary-treasurer of the Ontario chapter of Canada’s Building Trades Union.

Although there are concerns about the presence of the virus in communities, Dillon said: “We have a pretty stellar track record of non-infection” on construction sites that stayed open during the lockdown.

Reporting by Moira Warburton; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Peter Cooney

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